MEDICAL GUIDE 1/2013 – From Amy Taylor 348-8914
Flaget Memorial addresses needs, reaches out to medically underserved areas
Kentucky ranks among the states with the worst health indicators, with high rates of cancer, obesity, and death due to heart disease and stroke. More than half of the state is medically underserved, especially in poverty-stricken areas where there is a shortage of doctors.
To Alice Bridges, vice president of healthy communities for KentuckyOne Health, the parent health system of Flaget Memorial Hospital, the obstacles are considerable. But they are not insurmountable.
“These problems are too great for any single organization to solve alone,” Bridges said. “That is the bold vision behind KentuckyOne Health: to leverage our resources and expertise across the state to address these health challenges and improve the health of all Kentuckians.”
When Dr. Doddachallor Shivakumar retired from his practice in Hodgenville last year, that left only two doctors in LaRue County. After the doctor left, Flaget Memorial opened a primary care practice in Hodgenville.
As a member hospital of KentuckyOne, part of Flaget’s mission is to reach out to medically underserved areas, said Flaget Vice President of Ambulatory Services and Projects Rick Vancise, B.S.N., M.B.A./H.C.M.
“That’s why the hospital opened the Hodgenville practice,” Vancise said. “It’s also the reason Flaget will open a practice in New Haven this summer.”
Both LaRue County and New Haven were identified as medically underserved areas when the hospital completed a needs assessment, Vancise said.
Flaget Chief Mission Leader Shane Fitzgerald, who worked on the needs assessment, said issues such as obesity, cancer, substance abuse, and lack of mental health services are among the major health concerns in Nelson County.
“The hospital is already meeting many health needs in our community, and we are always looking for new ways we can meet needs in the future,” Fitzgerald said.
The needs assessment also highlighted the plight of the economically disadvantaged, he said. These people are more likely to suffer from health problems.
To address that need, Flaget started up the Nelson County Community Clinic and continues to support it, Fitzgerald said. The clinic provides free medical care, free medicines and free basic dental care to low-income Nelson County residents. The hospital also sponsors health fairs, free cancer screenings, free monthly support groups for cancer, weight loss and grief, free monthly blood sugar screenings, free smoking cessation courses, free nutrition courses and a free annual weight-loss drive.
In addition, the hospital addresses the needs of the low-income with charity care, and with the Prescription Assistance Program that provides free medicines for those who can’t afford them.
One way Flaget is working on the obesity challenge is by providing a bariatric (weight-loss) surgeon, Dr. Rob Farrell, for the community, according to Flaget President Sue Downs, M.S.N., C.E.N.P., F.A.C.H.E. To work on the cancer threat, the Flaget Cancer Center was opened in 2010. To battle heart disease, Flaget’s Emergency Department staff studied and practiced for a year to learn better methods for helping heart attack victims, earning the hospital a Chest Pain Center accreditation.
To combat substance abuse and mental illness, the hospital has teamed up with Our Lady of Peace professionals who come to Flaget to assess community residents in crisis, Downs said. To make sure that patients discharged from Flaget don’t land right back in the hospital, VNA Nazareth Home Care is called in to follow up with them.
“We’re moving from a ‘hospital-centric’ model to preventive care and community health,” she said. “This is what’s so exciting – we get to move from just taking care of people while they’re sick – to preventing them from getting sick. If we really want to make an impact, our focus will be on keeping people well.”