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Grants help Chicago-area health centers boost care quality, cancer screening

by Jennifer-Leigh Oprihory
Oct 04, 2012


Courtesy of Near North Health Service Corporation

The Winfield Moody Health Center in Chicago is one step closer to becoming a "medical home" for patients, utilizing a $55,000 federal grant awarded to its parent company, Near North Health Service Corporation.

Boosted patient primary care and increased cancer screening are priorities for 20 Chicago-area community health centers to utilize Affordable Care Act grants. The Department of Health and Human Services awarded the grants this fall.

The funds will give people a health center base, or “medical home,” for care and cancer screening.
While the term “patient-centered medical home” may seem like an unfamiliar mouthful to some, Heartland International Health Center executive director Gwenn Rausch said that it builds on traditional patient-physician relationships.

“A patient-centered medical home is really, in some ways, an old-fashioned concept,” she said.

The model emphasizes the idea that patients should see the same primary care physician for the majority of their visits, be made aware of their health records and treatment plans and have their medications monitored electronically to ensure that they are being used properly, Rausch said.

The model helps patients “to understand the value of seeing the same doctor," details of their health conditions and the importance of taking medications.

According to Rausch, grant recipient Heartland International Health Center, with 10 health centers on Chicago’s North Side and a patient community of approximately 15,000, will use its funding to tackle communication barriers to cancer screening.

Since minority female patients at Heartland often avoid cervical cancer screenings due to concerns relating to “embarrassment” or “fear of finding out bad results,” Rausch said the center will use part of the funding to cover the cost of hiring a women’s health nurse.

“This will be a nurse that’s bilingual, that’s able to actually have a one-on-one conversation with women eligible for the test,” Rausch said. “We also have a patient care coordinator that will call and remind women that’s also someone that’s fluent in Spanish that can actually explain the test to the women and help allay their fears about getting the exam or getting…results that might be frightening to them in some way.”

Rausch said a small part of the funding will be used to hire individuals to crunch data and generate special reports in order to track the center’s progress.

“We hope to be able to… boost our screening rates up to 68 percent,” Rausch said.

The 20 community health centers in Chicago and area communities are among 810 nationally that will each receive $55,000 in Quality Improvement in Health Centers Supplemental Funding for use in adapting health centers to the patient-centered medical home model and improving cervical cancer screening. These issues were put together in response to studies linking care enhancements provided by the model to both a higher probability of patients receiving cancer screening and to a decrease in cancer screening inequalities among minority populations.

“The purpose of this funding opportunity… is to improve quality of care and access to services for medically underserved people nationwide by tying recognition of patient centered medical home to improving clinical outcomes,” said Martin Kramer, Director of Communications at the Health Resources and Services Administration, in an email.

“These awards are intended to provide assistance to existing health centers as they make the practice changes necessary to achieve patient-centered medical home recognition and increase the percentage of women screened for cervical cancer as a key clinical performance measure.”

According to Kramer, the patient-centered medical home model focuses on six core areas of medical care: enhancing health care access and continuity, patient population identification and management, care planning and management, the provision of self-care support and resources, tracking and coordinating care, and improving overall performance.

Near North Health Service Corporation, which operates eight full-service health centers in the city and three supplementary nutrition centers for women, infants and children, was also among the community health centers selected for funding.

“Our mission as a federally-qualified health center is essentially to serve the underserved,” said Matthew Smith, communications director at Near North Health Service Corporation. “We are serving people’s health needs, people that are typically left out of the healthcare mainstream. A lot of the folks we serve would otherwise go to an emergency room to get their care.”

Smith said that Near North looks to the grant to help improve its efficiency in cancer identification, screening and follow-up treatment.

Smith said funding grants will be used as well for “technology build-out” (including, among other features, the incorporation of new algorithms for cervical-cancer screening and vaccination data analytics), system training for health care providers, patient recruitment and performance measurements that will quantitatively gauge the effectiveness of screening and prevention efforts. 

He too emphasized the importance of centers becoming patient-centered "medical homes."

“Becoming a patient-centered medical home is not just important for Chicago, but I mean, I think it’s important… in just 21st century health care in general,” Smith said. “It’s simply a matter of recognizing the best and most efficient ways to care for the most people.”

“I don’t know that that’s something that anyone could think that would be anything but an ideal.”