Uninsured Oklahoma County residents face many obstacles in receiving health care, an issue city and health leaders are addressing through a health network announced Tuesday.
Health and local leaders announced Tuesday the creation of the Oklahoma County Community Health Network, a system that will serve Oklahoma County's uninsured by connecting them with a higher level of care that's often out of reach for the population.
“There has been conversation in this state about doing things the Oklahoma way and doing things the private sector way, and I will tell you if you really believe that, you have to be encouraged and excited by this opportunity,” said Stanley Hupfeld, co-chairman of the Commission to Transform the Health Care Safety Net in Oklahoma County. “This is very much the opportunity to take care of the poor and underserved by the private sector, by volunteers and by utilizing the best energies of all involved.”
Over the past year, members of the commission worked to create a master plan of how the network will work, outlining costs, goals and issues within the current system.
Oklahoma County is believed to have more community-based and faith-based health care safety net providers per square mile than any other major metropolitan county or region in the United States, according to the commission.
About 732,000 people live in Oklahoma County. About 139,000 of the county's residents are uninsured, and of that population, about 90,500 are uninsured and have household incomes at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level, according to the commission.
The most glaring deficiency in the Oklahoma County safety net is the inability of health centers and charitable clinics to access a broad range of specialty care services for the uninsured in a timely and efficient manner, according to the commission.
To address this issue, network staff members will coordinate these services for patients from charitable clinics and community health centers and do so in a prompt and timely manner, said Pam Cross, executive director of the Health Alliance for the Uninsured.
“Timeliness has a huge impact,” Cross said. “If someone is going repeatedly to the emergency room because they have gallbladder attacks, it makes so much more sense to arrange for that surgery and have that diseased gallbladder removed so they can return to work, and they can be productive family members.”
The network will serve as a single referral source, connecting patients from clinics to specialty care, Hupfeld said.
“Wherever a patient lands in one of our clinics, with one phone call, we can get them moved on to a higher level of care,” Hupfeld said.
The network will also establish a case management system where nurses help patients move through the health care system. Nurses employed through the network will check in with patients, asking about whether they're taking their medication and following their doctor's instructions. Third, the network will help convert clinics into the primary source of care for patients, rather than the hospital emergency room.
The network will consist of 12 to 14 staff members, including nurses, bilingual staff members and social workers.
The projected startup and first-year operating costs for the network are about $950,000. So far, the alliance has about 25 percent of funding secured, Cross said. The network is expected to cost about $900,000 per year to run.
Commission leaders set out with a goal of 55 percent of the money coming from private foundations and trusts with health interests; 20 percent from hospital and health systems and their foundations; 15 percent from the Oklahoma City-County Health Department; and 10 percent from corporations, businesses and residents.
The Health Alliance for the Uninsured was selected in November to administer the Oklahoma County Community Health Network. Since that time, alliance staff members have worked to secure funding. Cross said there's always the concern in the nonprofit world that a project won't get funded.
“I've been in the nonprofit sector for nearly 20 years, so I've learned to live with that insecurity and not let it prevent the organization from achieving its mission,” Cross said. “If one door closes, you go in another direction.”
This is very much the opportunity to take care of the poor and underserved by the private sector, by volunteers and by utilizing the best energies of all involved.”
Co-chairman of the Commission to Transform the Health Care Safety Net in Oklahoma County