Communication, not blame, needed for health center
The news article of Feb. 8 titled “Health Center Draws Flak from Patients,” immediately attracted my attention. As I became engrossed in reading further, my relaxed mood quickly deteriorated after reading numerous testimonials of those who were supposedly mistreated or misdiagnosed.
While it’s typically not my nature to fire off a rebuttal to users of our over-extended and broken healthcare delivery system, I am compelled to stand up for our community health center (as well as our valuable district hospital) by setting the record straight to all of those who feel that access to quality healthcare is driven primarily by a patient’s ability to pay.
First, I will qualify my opinion by stating that my healthcare finance profession spans 30 years and includes employment at consulting firms, clinics and hospitals large and small (for- and not-for-profit), district, critical access, rural health and county facilities all across the country.
I have seen it all, notwithstanding the extremely fragile state that reform is leaving in its wake as the new healthcare delivery model rolls out.
During a time when healthcare has never been more clinically and financially challenged, I find it interesting that the public can very quickly issue blame on an obviously over-scheduled, over-burdened health center that is trying to accommodate a large segment of the Latino community to the best of its ability.
I also find it difficult to believe that the health center has not made efforts to explain to its population that with limited space and resources, they simply cannot provide comprehensive care to all individuals who are accessing their services. There are outreach groups that can bridge the language barrier and assist patients by redirecting their care to alternate sites, especially in more urgent situations.
There are also resources that can help patients to qualify for Medi-Cal or charity care programs when they are unable to pay for services. Even in hardship situations, when patients do not qualify for assistance, very minimal payment arrangements can be made with no interest applied.
It is quite evident by the participation of several representatives who attended the recent meeting – including the program CEO, Cheryl Johnson – that access and quality of care is a priority to their care mission. As Mr. Cardenas stated in the article, “… we are looking for steps we can take together…”
This is that primary first step. It will not happen overnight but it is evident that a caring and compassionate consortium is obviously underway to improve the overall operation of the program.?To simply take a patient’s word at face value that they were misdiagnosed, and then publish it without any further investigation, is a serious accusation and perhaps an attempt by the media to sensationalize the issue further.
I am certainly not stating that there are not serious consequences when patients cannot gain timely access they need. But the health center is not the only facility that can provide essential diagnostic and clinical services. Where did the Springs residents access care prior to the opening of the health center?
I also believe that the issue is not racial – but national. Regardless of race, we are an aging population and chances are that we will need access to care at any given time. Growing deductibles and shrinking benefits is the flavor-of-the-month and increasing government scrutiny and regulations are stretching already over-worked resources to collect every dime of reimbursement to which healthcare facilities are so rightly entitled.
Residents of Sonoma Valley are so very fortunate to experience cultural diversity where everyone, regardless of ethnicity or the ability to pay for care, is embraced. Are we perfect? Certainly not. Do we care enough to change? Most certainly.
We are a community so fortunate to have quality medical providers, staff, technology, services and a location with which to care for clinic patients. Typically, the health center model is used in conjunction with an acute care hospital partner to divert non-emergent care to a site that can accommodate high volumes of clinic patients in a cost-saving environment. This venture saves the taxpayers thousands (perhaps millions) of dollars by preserving hospital emergency department services for those actual life-threatening events.
Communication to assist the Latino community, not blame or finger-pointing at our providers, is much needed to augment our current delivery model. It’s what we strive for to make the system better each and every day – and ours is better than most.
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Cynthia Denton is a resident of Boyes Hot Springs.