CP clinic aims to assist uninsured, improve health care access - April 8, 2016

Courtesy of The Post-Tribune • April 8, 2016

By Christin Nance Lazerus, Contact Reporter

Cedar Lake resident Mark Ogibovic knew that his health was less than ideal — high blood pressure and high blood sugar put him at risk for diabetes and cardiovascular disease. He had tried to get treatment in the past, but follow-up appointments with specialists cost more than he could afford.

Even though Ogibovic had sought treatment, he stopped taking his medicine when he ran out, he said. A subsequent health screening last year at a Crown Point food pantry, however, forced him to take stock when his blood sugar and blood pressure test results came back dangerously high.

“The nurse looked at me like I was a walking dead person. She said, ‘You’ve got to come to the clinic.’ I told her I couldn’t with my work schedule, but they told me they could work with me and my schedule.”

Ogibovic is one of more than 800 people who have received health screenings in the community through Franciscan St. Clarthe clinic in Crown Point. Clinic manager and nurse practitioner Julie Mallers said the effort started in 2014 to serve the community — particularly the uninsured — more effectively.

Mallers said the goal was to help people in need, but also to offer prevention screenings for patients who already have primary doctors.

Ogibovic works daily — from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. — at a car dealership, so the hours of most doctor’s offices don’t work for him. But nurses at Franciscan St. Clare worked to help Ogibovic — with evening appointments, medication to manage his conditions, and helping him sign up for insurance through the Healthy Indiana Plan 2.0.

The treatment is paying dividends so far.

“I’ve got my blood pressure under control now,” Ogibovic said.

The most recent data from the Community Health Needs Assessment revealed that lack of insurance, cost of prescriptions and physician visits, and other access issues prevent Northwest Indiana residents from getting adequate health care. For example, nearly 15 percent of U.S. residents are uninsured, but the number is much higher locally, with about 26 percent of residents served by Methodist Hospitals Northlake lacking coverage, the data shows. The rate is 19.4 percent at Franciscan St. Margaret Health in Hammond and 17.7 percent at St. Catherine Hospital in East Chicago.

CHNA also showed that cardiovascular disease and diabetes were on the rise, Mallers said, so that’s why the screening focused on significant risk factors — high blood pressure and high blood sugar.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S., but Lake County outpaces the national average with 228.7 deaths per 1,000 deaths compared to 184.6 nationwide. Heart disease impacts men nearly twice as much as women. Deaths also vary widely along racial and ethnic lines, with heart disease deaths among blacks counting for 117.6 per 1,000 deaths, while the number is 96.3 for non-Hispanic whites and 62.8 for Latinos.

With diabetes, Lake County also surges past the national average with 30.4 deaths per 1,000 deaths, compared with 21.3 nationally.

Part of serving the community was setting up screenings outside of the clinic — at local churches, food pantries and the Southlake YMCA. For those with serious health needs — about 25 percent of the people screened — nurses worked with them on a number of angles, particularly in the area of diabetes.

“We have a nurse who is a lifestyle coach,” Mallers said. “She worked on the education and prevention, such as diet and exercise. We’ve also started annual eye exams and (brought in a) podiatrist, who is free with no insurance. The goal is to work them into the Affordable Care Act’s health reforms, so we’re trying to help them get insurance by getting into the clinic. We also have a social worker, who will provide any assistance with insurance, food stamps, medication program, and handing out sample medications.”

HIP 2.0 has helped health access for more than 350,000 statewide, but Mallers said the clinic works to help many who might not qualify but still need help accessing health care.

“It has definitely increased access to health care, but there’s unfortunately (not enough) providers to care for all of the individuals needed to care for them,” Mallers said. “We need to step up additional care on our end to help care for them.”

She hopes a measure the Indiana General Assembly recently approved will open up more health care outlets, particularly nurse practitioner-based clinics. Currently, nurse practitioners in Indiana are required to do so in collaboration with a physician.

“That will be a game-changer for the majority of the state in terms of access,” Mallers said. “It will give individuals more access to find primary care providers.”