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Upper Valley Medical Center Expands Support for Health Partners

Health Partners
Deb Huelskamp, RN, (right) is among the growing number of UVMC health care professionals volunteering their time and expertise at the Health Partners clinic located south of the hospital on County Road 25A.  UVMC recently stepped up support for the clinic, which is seeing record numbers of patients.
Health Partners Free Clinic and UVMC are taking steps to work even closer together in attempting to meet the needs of the area’s growing number of uninsured and underinsured.

The scene at the Thursday evening Health Partners clinic at the Paul G. Duke Health Center helps tell the story of the growth. Vehicles often fill the parking lot and line the berm along the road at the clinic, which opened in December 2007 on County Road 25A between Troy and Piqua.

Organized in 1998, Health Partners Free Clinic had 400 clients in 1999. Today, there are more than 20,000 people in the county who don’t have health insurance or have “incredibly high” deductibles, said Deb Miller, Executive Director of Health Partners.

“That number is growing unbelievably fast,” she added.

Much of the growth has come in the last three years. For example in 2007, before the move to the 25A home, Health Partners provided about 2,000 prescriptions. Last year, that number was 13,000.

“That is just one service. When you think about handling all the paperwork, etcetera, that goes along with it, it has grown pretty much the same across the board,” Miller said. “Our patient visits have grown, services have grown and hours of operation have grown from two a week to about 30 hours a week.”

UVMC is familiar with the challenges faced by Health Partners as it, too, has worked to adjust in an ever-changing health care environment and in the face of coming health care reform, said Michael Maiberger, UVMC president and CEO.

Although the organizations – neighbors a couple of miles apart along County Road 25A – have worked together before, now is the time for a more pronounced relationship, he said.

“A vital part of our common mission is to provide access to needed health care services in our communities. What we are trying to do is to enhance our existing relationship as we go forward in the era of health care reform and new challenges,” Maiberger said.

 “I think that reflects not only a belief on the part of our organization, but also is reflective of a personal belief that we (UVMC) have towards Health Partners and what they do for our communities,” he added.

UVMC recently made a $10,000 contribution to Health Partners for 2010 and committed a like amount for 2011. UVMC also will help the organization in other ways such as encouraging its health care professionals to volunteer for the health clinic.

“Volunteers are what drive the Health Partners organization. As the primary health care provider and largest employer in our county, we are talking it up,” Tom Parker, UVMC executive vice president/COO, said of encouraging volunteering by more health care workers including physicians.

Miller said UVMC has been a long-time supporter of Health Partners. The enhanced relationship is more than welcome as the challenges from the uninsured and underinsured grow. 

“It is neat that we can sit down, talk and brainstorm and figure out what can we do together to solve some of these problems that our community faces,” she said.

Dr. Mark Hess, Health Partners Medical Director, said one of the important pieces of the UVMC-Health Partner relationship has come at a personal level, particularly with Emergency Department physicians and staff.

“The individual volunteering of time from physicians and others at UVMC has been real important to us,” Hess said.

The UVMC Board of Directors had been discussing for over the past year how UVMC could work more with others who share the health care mission in the area.

“Health Partners percolated to the top because of what they do in the community, the number of people and lives that they touch and how they benefit/complement our health care system,” Maiberger said. The UVMC Board, Parker added, “was very clear in saying this is a great place to start.”

The enhanced relationship is just part of UVMC’s effort to be more visible in the communities it serves.

“We want to play a more integral role in the health of our community. To be involved means you have to put financial support and resources behind your effort,” Maiberger said.

As it continues to work to deal with growth, the Health Partners board has made a commitment to focus on stabilizing the clinic and operations process during the next 12 months, Miller said. Among goals is putting in place a good orientation process for volunteers.

“We manage to get it done, but we could do it better,” Miller said of the organization’s approximately 100 volunteers. Most are from Miami County, though some are students who volunteer for the clinical experience. Many of those volunteers are nursing students – seeking associate’s to master’s degrees – while there’s also been some premed students, physician assistants in training and others who have provided much needed help, Miller said.

“It shows them a different piece of what health care service is about,” she said. “It is about giving back volunteering. It is about recognizing how blessed we are and how easy that could be me sitting there (seeking health care at he clinic).”

Volunteers do not have to be health care professionals. Help is needed with tasks such as answering phones, interviewing clients to determine assistance eligibility, to weeding the clinic grounds and providing information technology assistance.

Potential volunteers are invited to call or stop by the clinic for more information and/or a tour. Donations of unused medical supplies such as diabetic supplies and medications also are accepted. At the clinic, medications that can be used will be, while any that cannot be used will be discarded properly, Miller said.

In addition to volunteers, financial contributions always are an ongoing need, she said.

More information on Health Partners is available by calling (937) 332-0894. More information on UVMC is available online.