County re­ceives fund­ing for new health­care ini­tia­tive

Mo­bile in­te­grated health pro­gram will pro­vide home ser­vice to peo­ple in need

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By MICHAEL SYKES II msykes@somd­news.com

The main fo­cuses in health­care are shift­ing all across the coun­try. Rather than be­ing re­ac­tionary, pub­lic health of­fi­cials and sup­port­ers are look­ing into cre­at­ing more proac­tive and pre­ven­ta­tive poli­cies.

Charles County is do­ing just that with its newly-formed mo­bile in­te­grated health­care pro­gram funded by a $550,000 grant from the state’s Com­mu­nity Health Re­source Com­mis­sion and fund­ing from the county gov­ern­ment, Univer­sity of Mary­land Charles Re­gional Med­i­cal Cen­ter and the Charles County Health Depart­ment.

Dianna Ab­ney, a health of­fi­cer with the county’s health depart­ment, said they went “all over the world” ap­ply­ing for grants for the pro­gram. The process is two years in the mak­ing, ac­cord­ing to John Filer, the chief of Charles County’s Depart­ment of Emer­gency Ser vices.

With this new pro­gram, Filer said, the county will be able to get out into ar­eas such as Nan­je­moy, Cobb Neck and New­burg

that have been un­der­ser­viced over the years.

There is a sim­i­lar pro­gram in Queen Anne’s County and also one in Phoenix, Ariz., Filer said. The data re­turned from those pro­grams has been “re­mark­able” and is part of what en­cour­aged Charles County to make a push to start their own.

“We’re ex­cited to get into the pro­gram,” Filer said. “We’re com­mit­ted to the un­der­served com­mu­ni­ties in this county, be­cause that’s re­ally who we’re talk­ing about. Those peo­ple and those fam­i­lies who don’t have ac­cess read­ily avail­able for pub­lic health. We’re try­ing to reach them and serve.”

Filer said there will be a unit con­sist­ing of nurse prac­ti­tioner, paramedic and com­mu­nity health agent mak­ing vis­its to those who fre­quently call 911. The peo­ple the county is look­ing to ser­vice must vol­un­teer, but the in­cen­tive of at­tempt­ing to find so­lu­tions to their health prob­lems may open more peo­ple up to the ser­vice.

The unit will be able to go around and fol­low up on physi­cian rec­om­men­da­tions made dur­ing hos­pi­tal vis­its, iden­tify is­sues that could lead to po­ten­tial health com­pli­ca­tions and find ways to solve other is­sues they may be pre­sented within a pa­tient’s home.

This ef­fort should lead to less 911 calls from those who call fre­quently and bet­ter health for those pa­tients as well, Filer said. Pre­vi­ous data has shown the county has read­mit­ted some pa­tients into the county hos­pi­tal as many as nine times in one week, he said, which is prob­lem­atic. But it is be­cause they lack the means for proper health­care cov­er­age.

“When they be­come scared and when they don’t have means to fol­low up on their health, they call 911 again and the cy­cle starts over,” he said.

This ini­tia­tive is to im­prove health­care, Ab­ney said, and there are too many peo­ple in the county fre­quently visit­ing the emer­gency room. The county wants to “im­prove their qual­ity of life” by re­duc­ing their vis­its, but they will also im­prove the county’s eco­nom­ics be­cause it will be less ex­pen­sive and more com­fort­able.

“It’ll help a whole lot of peo­ple,” Ab­ney said.

Mark Luck­ner, the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Mary­land’s Com­mu­nity Health Re­sources Com­mis­sion, said the process of se­cur­ing the grant for Charles County was not easy.

There were mul­ti­ple projects with good ideas, he said, but ul­ti­mately Charles County’s idea had the most depth and had been vet­ted thor­oughly so they re­ceived the state’s grant.

The process will be re­vis­ited in three years, Luck­ner said, and the pro­ject will be eval­u­ated to see how health care qual­ity has im­proved within the county.

“Gen­er­ally, I’ll have data pulled ev­ery six months and we’ll eval­u­ate the num­bers from there,” Luck­ner said. “Then, af­ter the three years, we’ll de­cide if we want to con­tinue for a fourth year, a fifth year and so on.”

Sen. Thomas “Mac” Mid­dle­ton (D-Charles) said he and Lucker “go back a long way” with Mid­dle­ton be­ing an ad­vo­cate for the com­mis­sion at its in­cep­tion in 2004. This new pro­gram is just an­other pro­ject they worked on to­gether with Mid­dle­ton back­ing Charles County and help­ing push the ap­pli­ca­tion for­ward, he said.

“I knew what it meant. Pro­vid­ing re­sources in ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties, un­der­served com­mu­ni­ties and un­der­priv­i­leged com­mu­ni­ties,” Mid­dle­ton said. “This is go­ing to be so very im­por­tant.”

Ul­ti­mately, Filer said, the more peo­ple the county can reach the bet­ter. This will take time to im­ple­ment and to get peo­ple to en­roll in the pro­gram, but it will be worth it.

This is not a new strat­egy, Filer said. Doc­tors made house calls “fre­quently” in the past, but health­care providers stopped that ser­vice. But with this, Filer said, he hopes the county can pro­vide a sim­i­lar pre­ven­ta­tive ser­vice to those who need it.

STAFF PHOTO BY MICHAEL SYKES II

Sen. Thomas “Mac” Mid­dle­ton signs a $550,000 check made out to the Charles County Depart­ment of Health af­ter the in­tro­duc­tion of the county’s new Mo­bile In­te­grated Health­care pro­gram.

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