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North Bay Business Journal

Monday, October 8, 2012, 7:00 am

West County Health selected for study of delivery of care

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    West County Health Centers has been selected as one of 30 primary care providers across the country that will be part of a best-practices project by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, aimed at identifying providers that maximize their workforce to improve health care delivery.

    The program, called The Primary Care Team: Learning from Effective Ambulatory Practices, or LEAP, was unveiled by the New Jersey-based foundation in March, with the stated goal of identifying such practices  “so these workforce models can be replicated and adopted more widely,” according to a description on its website.

    Mary Szecsey, executive director of the six-sight federally qualified health center, said the health centers were one of among hundreds of applicants to be included.

    “The program was designed to help disseminate best practices around workforce and the effective use of the workforce and primary care,” Ms. Szecsey said. “So they interviewed us and we sent them materials.”

    The LEAP program is examining a wide range of practice models, from small private practices, FQHCs and larger, more integrated foundation models, Ms. Szecsey said.

    “This is a very big honor and recognition of all of our work to transform the way that we deliver health care in our community,” she said.

    In November, members from the foundation will visit the health centers, which have locations in Sebastopol, Guerneville and Forestville, to assess what measures staff have taken in attempts to improve and coordinate care among its patients.

    Such measures, Ms. Szecsey said, include how the health centers have changed the role of its medical assistants, being the first FQHC in the region to adopt full electronic medical records and other technology, and incorporating wellness services not typically available to a lower-income patient base.

    Referencing the latter, the Forestville Wellness Center, Ms. Szecsey said, “That’s one the things they did call out, as a kind of innovative practice.”

    The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, one of the biggest and most influential health care foundations in the country, said the three-year program was in direct response to the national physician shortage, particularly as the Affordable Care Act promises to deliver some 30 million Americans into the health care system by 2014.

    “The foundation’s mission is to improve health and health care, and we cannot succeed unless we address the shortage of primary care physicians,” John Lumpkin, the foundation’s senior vice president and director of the Health Care Group, said back in March. “The nation will not be able to train new primary care providers quickly enough to meet the need, so part of the solution must be to use the workforce we have more effectively. This new program will identify ways to do that.”

    The goal is to identify 30 “high-functioning” primary care practices, using criteria that examines practice configurations, locations and other measures. The foundation said many primary care practices demonstrate innovative ways of delivering care, but little is known about them on a national scale, specifically about how such practices can impact access, quality, value and patient or provider experience.

    “Thus, many of the new workforce models have not been widely adapted,” the foundation said.

    Ms. Szecsey said her group of health centers is anxious to participate in the program.

    “It’s going to be a lot of fun to be a part of it,” she said. “We’ve been on the cutting edge for a long time, first with the EHRs, and now with the Affordable Care Act, we’re seeing that there’s just a lot of opportunity bringing a lot of new innovation into primary care.”

    In 2011, West County Health Centers saw roughly 12,300 patients through its seven locations and had nearly 50,000 patient visits, according to its annual report.

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