- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
St. Mary’s County health officials are implementing plans to get physical and mental health services to what they call an underserved population in three communities.
MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital won a $3.4 million state grant to establish a Health Enterprise Zone that would benefit Park Hall, Lexington Park and Great Mills. The hospital has plans to partner with several health care organizations, including Walden, social services and the Minority Outreach Coalition during the next four years to address chronic disease and disparities that seem to be tied to race and where residents live.
About a year ago, St. Mary’s learned it would be among five communities, including Dorchester and Prince George’s counties, receiving grants. The state budgeted $4 million a year for the four-year program.
“A lot of this is continually in the forming process,” said Holly Meyer, hospital spokeswoman. “There is an enormous amount of energy behind this project and it is about doing good work ... It’s a very new concept.”
So far, MedStar St. Mary’s has hired six neighborhood wellness advocates who work with nurses and clients. And two care coordinators also will work closely with nurses to ensure that patients living in the targeted area have the opportunity to use services if they’re candidates for the program. The team goal is to understand patient needs, schedule doctor appointments, encourage them to follow up with physicians, take medications as prescribed and help residents get to the point of independence when it comes to managing their diseases.
Patients may take advantage of the services voluntarily, and have the option to decline. Many of the residents in the targeted area in need of medical care have been diagnosed with diabetes and hypertension, as well as other chronic conditions such as asthma. Part of the program goal is to reduce emergency room visits for issues related to these diseases, which in most cases are better treated with ongoing care through a primary care physician.
Transportation is a major barrier, said Lori Werrell, director of Health Connections at MedStar. The Health Enterprise Zone is looking at ways to get prescriptions delivered to people’s homes. And the team has purchased a van to take residents to primary care providers, neighborhoods, pharmacies, health care facilities and grocery stores. Two drivers have been hired and are in training, hospital staff said, and a more definite route is being determined. The bus seats eight and has space for two wheelchairs.
Kathleen O’Brien, chief executive officer at Walden Behavioral Health Services, said the St. Mary’s model offers an integrated care approach. Nurses screen patients and ensure they are referred to mental health services if there are signs of depression or other mental health concerns. And, workers at Walden will ensure their patients are introduced to the team that can help them address their physical care.
“That’s really the intent of the Health Enterprise Zone,” O’Brien said, “to be able to treat the whole person. And, when you do, you have better health results.”
For instance, a person with diabetes and depression might eat for emotional reasons to self-medicate, and at the same time exacerbate the diabetes, said Gary Lynch, Walden chief operating officer. It also can lead to more expense care over time, another issue the Health Enterprise Zone is trying to address, Lynch said.
“I want people to take care of their health and be more educated,” said Christina Leeman, an HEZ neighborhood wellness advocate. She sees herself as a coach and educator, helping people have a better quality of life.
But ultimately, “it comes down to their choice,” Leeman said. “They have to choose to want to know, and choose to get better.”