Improving care for less

Jeanne Ang, MCRP, Director of Community Health, North Illinois Region, Advocate Aurora Health
Andrea Pacheco, Community Health Worker, Advocate Condell Medical Center

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Improving care for less

“Advocate Condell Medical Center is the only Level 1 Trauma Center in Lake County. When patients come in for low-acuity conditions—fevers, rashes, urinary tract infections and other things related to chronic diseases that could be handled outside the emergency department (ED)—they divert resources from the critical cases the hospital is designed to handle.

“Worse, in a busy emergency department those low-acuity patients often must wait longer to be seen. And even when they are seen, that visit is only going to address the acute reason they are coming in for, not help them better manage their chronic illness and improve their health over the long term.

“This may seem like a trivial issue, but it’s not. Many of these patients live in the zip codes that the Healthcare Foundation has identified as being high-priority funding areas, where the need for better ‘everyday’ health care is greatest. From January to October of 2018, 9,788 people living in those zip codes came to the ED with low-acuity complaints; nearly half of them—4,753—were pediatric cases. For 2017, those numbers were 11,525 and 5,958, respectively.

“At Condell Medical Center, we’ve just launched a one-year pilot community health worker (CHW) program to improve care for these patients in and out of the emergency room. It’s a new model, even for the Advocate Aurora Health system, and we’re pretty excited about it.

“Andrea, our CHW, works with low-acuity patients in the ED. She completes a comprehensive social assessment to identify the possible barriers preventing the patient from staying healthy and educates patients on other options to access care in their community—Walgreens Clinics, immediate care centers, Federally Qualified Health Centers, and more. She can say, ‘Okay, we’ve looked at the map of Lake County here on my wall, and we’ve found your address. We can see there’s an immediate care center only five minutes from your house. Next time your child has a fever and it’s 8 p.m., that’s probably your best first option.’

“She completes a care plan for all the patients she meets with. She links them to a primary care home if they don’t have one. She assists them in getting an appointment and educates them on their health insurance, including Medicaid managed care plans. If a patient needs to change plans or physicians to get necessary services, she’s able to help with that.

“Andrea also works with patients in the community, working in tandem with both inpatient and outpatient nurse care managers. This includes both phone calls and home visits to further assess a patient’s needs and to do additional one-on-one patient education. During the home visit, Andrea can spot things that can really affect health but might never come up in a conversation during a primary care visit.

“We’ve had community health workers in the Advocate Aurora system for quite some time, and they’ve proven their worth in a variety of models. We’re hoping that by the end of the pilot year, this model will do the same in Lake County.”