Oakland Tribune Guest Commentary: Finding Methods to Provide Needy Better Health Care

Posted on Apr 16, 2015

By Steve O’Brien and Marty Lynch
Oakland Tribune
My word © 2015 Bay Area News Group
Posted:   04/16/2015 09:00:00 AM PDT
It takes a village to accomplish many goals in this world. And we’re finding out that a village is now more important than ever in helping members of our community access health care in more convenient and appropriate settings.

Members of our community who are uninsured, homeless or living in poverty frequently use emergency rooms for their primary health care. These patients account for almost half of non-life-threatening visits to ERs.

Sutter Health’s Alta Bates Summit Medical Center and Alameda County’s Community Health Center Network collaborate to offer greater access to primary medical care for patients who often rely on the emergency rooms of the area.

Alta Bates Summit and its philanthropic partner, Better Health East Bay, have invested nearly $1.5 million to place care and transitions registered nurses at three community centers in Oakland and Berkeley.

A care and transitions nurse works to ensure that each patient has a convenient medical home for follow-up appointments and routine health care.

To ensure a smooth transition and continuing care once the patient is back in the community, the medical center relies on long-established relationships with LifeLong Medical Care, La Clinica de la Raza and Asian Health Services.

These deeply rooted community organizations offer centrally located, affordable, comprehensive and effective primary and preventive care. They also provide language translation services and help identify and remove other barriers to care, such as substance abuse or lack of transportation or permanent housing.

At LifeLong, the care and transitions nurse manager and her team help patients get excellent primary care, a key factor in preventing serious illness. The care and transition nurses work with approximately 3,600 patients a year who visit the emergency room or are admitted to Alta Bates Summit Medical Center, cared for and discharged.

In August 2014, the Community Health Center Network tracked the outcomes of 600 of the 3,600 patients and found that patients in the care and transitions program were 32 percent more likely to follow up with a health care provider within 30 days of their first admission to the hospital.

Emergency room visits and hospital readmissions within 30 days of discharge also decreased by almost 20 percent for these patients.

For a relatively young program, these findings are remarkable. We’re constantly looking at ways to provide better care to patients while controlling health care costs, and this program does both. It’s a win-win for the entire East Bay community.

This collaboration is one of many ways we are transforming health care and meeting the demands of the Affordable Care Act. Sutter Health is exploring opportunities to expand this approach to other East Bay hospitals and clinic partners to improve care for the most vulnerable in our communities.

To learn more about not-for-profit Alta Bates Summit’s community benefit programs, visit www.altabatessummit.org and LifeLong Medical Care at www.lifelongmedical.org

Dr. Steve O’Brien is the chief medical executive of Alta Bates Summit Medical Center and Marty Lynch is chief executive of LifeLong Medical Care.

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