S. E. Williams
The success of the Affordable Care Act has expanded the availability of health care to thousands in the region. As a result, the demand for health care services has increased exponentially and its impact is being experienced by health care providers across the region.
At the same time, according to the most recent data (2014) published by the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development, there are more than 160,000 low income, under-served and uninsured patients in the Inland Empire.
This week in an exclusive interview with The Voice, Health Center Partners Chief Executive Officer Henry Tuttle shared information regarding his agency’s role in helping to assure the medical needs of this most vulnerable segment of the community’s population has access to quality care.
Health Center Partners (HCP) is a private, nonprofit association composed of 16 member community health center corporations operating more than 105 locations throughout Riverside, San Diego and Imperial Counties. HCP is a subsidiary of the Council of Community Clinics, the leading consortium, voice and health policy advocate for member centers who serve the health needs of communities throughout Southern California.
“Health Center Partners of Southern California was formed in 1977 to be the common voice and advocate for the community health centers in San Diego, Riverside and Imperial Counties,” Tuttle explained. “We have 17 member organizations with 114 practice sites across these three counties. Collectively, they care for 768,000 patients of which 68 percent are under the federal poverty level, 54 percent are underinsured and 31 percent are uninsured.”
According to Tuttle, HCP is the region’s preeminent authority and health care policy advocate for community health centers. “[We are] focused on improving lives by elevating the primary care profession, and enhancing the delivery of and access to high quality primary care,” he stressed.
HCP is funded through federal, state, local foundation and private grants and contracts, as well as membership dues. Although member agencies do pay a membership fee according to Tuttle, HCP collaborates with a variety of community agencies and other health care partners to provide services. “There is no fee to our partners to participate,” he confirmed.
HCP remains focused and committed to working toward resolution to a number of issues faced by its member agencies and the citizens they serve. “Major concerns include workforce shortages, specifically the shortage of primary care providers, which affects our members’ ability to care for our patients, and how that impacts access to care for the patients they serve,” he stressed and continued, “Following implementation of the Affordable Care Act, adults, seniors and the elderly previously without health insurance coverage, have been presenting for care often with complex and multiple overlapping chronic conditions that had gone undiagnosed and/or untreated prior to accessing primary care.”
The California Health Care Foundation recently reported the Inland Empire faces a serious doctor shortage, especially in primary care and psychiatry. According to the report, the number of physicians in the Inland Region in below state levels, at 120 per 100,000 residents compared to the state average of 194 per 100,000. In addition, the number of available medical specialists in the area is not much better—in the Inland Empire there are 43 medical specialist for every 100,000 people compared to 64 specialists per 100,000 statewide. The report also stressed the situation is expected to worsen as physicians are retiring faster than younger physicians can replace them.
Regional leaders are already working to mitigate this concern. In preparation, the Arrowhead Regional Medical School in Colton has expanded its family medicine residency program. It also created a new internal medicine residency program. In addition, a new medical school, the California University of Science and Medicine in Colton, will receive its first class in the fall of 2017.
HCP is also focused on advocating for enhancements to the Affordable Care Act. According to Tuttle, his agency continues to advocate for ACCESS for patients, made possible through funding in the annual appropriations process. “We also are encouraging members of Congress to reduce the uncertainty for patients caused by the need for annual renewals by making the Health Centers Fund permanent.” He added, “Patients deserve continuity and shouldn’t have to worry about whether or not their doctors and care teams will be available when they need them.”
At the state level, HCP has supported the introduction of six key pieces of legislation, five in the Assembly and one in the Senate. They include AB 1863—Improving Access to Behavioral Health Services; AB 2053—Licensed Health Center Expansion and Consolidation Act; AB 2216—Addressing California’s Primary Care Provider Shortage, Graduate Medical Education; AB 2589—Lactation Support for California Moms; AB 2782—Healthy California Fund: For our Families and Children; and, SB 1335—Improving Access to Behavioral Health Services (Drug Medi-Cal).
Beyond the HCP’s success as an advocate for legislative change the organization is proud of its efforts on the ground, particularly its support of members as they navigate changes in the health care delivery system. According to Tuttle, HCP has supported their success in achieving a 30-40 percent increase in patients into their collective primary care health network.
Recently, HCP unveiled a new vision for collaborative primary health care for the 768,000 low income, under-served and uninsured patients in Southern California—Integrated Health Care Partners. Integrated Health Care Partners (IHCP) is designed to advance standards of care, improve outcomes and reduce costs for member community health centers.
“Integrated Health Care Partners will be a united voice representing primary care providers, safeguarding the future of quality health care for the safety net population, and ensuring a seat at the table as important decisions in health care are made.” Tuttle added, “Our vision is to improve quality of care and patient health outcomes by leveraging data from health centers to drive performance and advance the standards of quality care. Of the 768,000 patients served by our 17 member health centers, more than 160,000 reside in the Inland Empire.”
“With that said,” he continued, “Our members have expanded access to care in the Inland Empire with the addition of several new health center locations in 2015, which is why we anticipate that when the 2015 Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development data is released in the coming months, we will see an increase in the number of patients being served by our member health centers in the Inland Empire.”
According to Tuttle, Integrated Health Care Partners will combine the data from member clinics to drive quality improvement and population health solutions in the Inland Empire. “Participating health centers will benchmark their individual performance against other health centers and share best practices. Our aggregated data will be used to inform Inland Empire communities about health disparities experienced by the residents of their communities.” Tuttle sees Integrated Health Partners as the solution for primary care in Southern California—leveraging valuable member data and key performance indicators to understand the community, problem solve and address critical needs.
In addition to Integrated Health Partners of Southern California, HCP has two additional subsidiary organizations—Health Quality Partners of Southern California and Council Connections.
For more information about Health Center Partners and it services visit http://hcpsocal.org/. To locate a health center near you visit the HCP website http://hcpsocal.org/, on the top banner there is a tab called ‘Health Centers’. After navigating to the page, enter your city in the map and it will show you all locations within a 25 mile radius.