"The end goal is for each person with health care needs to be directed or become a patient at the most appropriate place for them,” said Pam Cross, executive director of The Health Alliance for the Uninsured, a local nonprofit.
The network is the result of recommendations from the 22-member Commission to Transform the Health Care Safety Net in Oklahoma County, which worked for a year studying available resources, unmet needs and the lack of coordination of care for the uninsured.
“Health care for low-income, uninsured persons can be provided in hospital emergency rooms, at greater cost and straining resources, or it can be provided in quality clinical settings that can focus on additional factors that affect health,” said Stanley Hupfeld, Integris Foundation chairman and commission co-chair. “If the Oklahoma County Community Health Network is successful, I believe we could accomplish the extraordinary — something very few cities have been able to achieve — and truly make a difference in the health of thousands of people each year.”
The new network is volunteer-driven and incorporates three interrelated components: primary care medical homes, a referral system for specialty care, and case management.
According to 2010 U.S. Census Bureau data, more than 90,469 Oklahoma County residents — 12.7 percent of the population — are uninsured and have household incomes at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level.
Tending the flock
Among the partners of the new network is Good Shepherd Ministries, which long has been on the front lines of the struggle to care for the uninsured. First Baptist Church in downtown Oklahoma City began the program in the 1960s to meet the physical and spiritual needs of the inner city.
Good Shepherd opened a free medical clinic in 1977 after two then- University of Oklahoma medical students saw a downtown bartender stitch up a homeless man whose arm had been cut.
“I don’t think anybody knew anything about starting a free medical clinic, but we decided that was something we needed to do,” said Dr. Fred Loper, who was one of those med students and is now Good Shepherd’s medical director.
Today, the free clinic, at 222 N.W. 12th, is one of the city’s oldest. Currently open on Mondays and Tuesdays, it sees about 30 patients a week, offering primary care, dental and pharmacy services.
Last year, the clinic booked more than 1,100 appointments, according to development director Ellen Ingram.
Now the clinic will undergo a much-needed expansion this year, thanks to a $7.7 million grant from the Butterfield Memorial Foundation. Awarded over a four-year period, the grant will enable Good Shepherd Ministries to become a full-time, full-service clinic.
The clinic will expand from one building to two, adding more exam rooms, a larger pharmacy, a physical therapy center, office space and a chapel. The clinic also will be able to hire its first-ever full-time staff.
As a result, Good Shepherd Ministries expect to increase appointments to 5,300 by 2015 and increase dental appointments by tenfold.
The grant is part of a $13.7 million initiative the Butterfield Memorial Foundation is undertaking to help Christian charitable clinics address the needs of the medically vulnerable in Central Oklahoma.
Vacuum of care
Gov. Mary Fallin’s decision not to expand Medicaid as part of the federal Affordable Care Act will leave an estimated 200,000 people with incomes at or below 133 percent of the federal poverty level without health insurance, according to the Oklahoma Health Care Authority.
Cross said she hopes the governor re-evaluates that decision.
“We really support efforts to look at this from several perspectives — certainly the health care needs of individuals, but also the impact that their poor health has on our economy,” she said. “The expansion of Medicaid should create many jobs for individuals that make our workforce more productive, so we hope that this is not something that can’t be reconsidered in the future.”