Jay Shubrook is an associate professor of family medicine for OU-HCOM and director of the College's Clinical Research Unit and Diabetes Fellowship Program.
Photographer: Ben Siegel
Kathy Trace is the director of OU-HCOM’s Community Health Programs.
Photographer: Ben Siegel
Nov 9, 2012
By Heather Anerino
In times of healthcare crisis, rural areas like southeastern Ohio are often the hardest hit. With a large population of uninsured residents and a serious lack of primary care physicians in the region, thousands of residents seek healthcare wherever they can. The Heritage Community Clinic and mobile health units, which offer specialized care at no cost to many people without health insurance or who could not otherwise afford it, have helped fill the healthcare void in the Appalachian region.
Run by OU-HCOM’s Community Health Programs (CHP) and funded primarily through OU-HCOM, the Osteopathic Heritage Foundation, the Sisters of Saint Joseph Charitable Fund, Ohio Association of Free Clinics, grants and philanthropic support, initiatives like the Heritage Community Clinic are not immune to the woes of a tough economic environment.
In 2012 the Clinic experienced a 36 percent increase in visits over the previous year, demonstrating the need and demand from residents for healthcare in the Appalachian region. But that increase was not met with 36 percent increased funding.
Thankfully, OU-HCOM faculty and staff are stepping up to the plate and committing their own generous financial support to the clinic. The additional funding enables the program to serve more patients, provide additional free screenings, deliver more comprehensive community health and wellness programs, and influence the overall wellbeing of the people in southeastern Ohio.
Diabetes: Fighting an Appalachian epidemic
Jay Shubrook is an associate professor of family medicine for OU-HCOM and director of the College's Clinical Research Unit and Diabetes Fellowship Program - one of only three programs in the country that train primary care physicians to become diabetes experts. As a benefactor of private funding for his own research, he knows intimately the impact of gifts on programs that foster community health.
"Most of my research looks at improving the quality of care for people with diabetes, and many of my projects have started from private funding," he said.
But research is only one piece of the equation. The real challenge is turning that research into improvements in treatment.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, type 2 diabetes rates continue to rise across the country, along with detrimental side effects like kidney disease, heart disease and strokes that accompany the disease.
In just the past 10 years, type 2 diabetes diagnoses have increased by approximately 70 percent among people in their 30s. Even more startling is that the disease – historically linked to adults – has become a common diagnosis in teenagers. In Ohio, more than 10 percent of the population has diabetes, and in Appalachian Ohio, that rate can be twice as high as in other regions of the state.
"Diabetes is a very expensive disease to treat, so my interest [in giving to the Heritage Clinic] is to help those people who would be unable to get care otherwise," said Shubrook. "Some have quoted that 1 in 5 U.S. Medicare dollars are spent on people with diabetes. The clinic is a great example of a community effort that has solid, tangible benefits, so it is truly a win-win."
"I also want to mentor volunteering. The idea of teaching my children the power of sharing and giving is something that cannot be measured," he added.
In 2010-2011, 79 extensive diabetes education sessions were provided to patients visiting the diabetes free clinic along with many informal sessions. And, 231 on site HgA1C tests were provided at no cost to patients, a value of $14,784. With increased funding for diabetes care and education, those numbers could double or even triple in coming years.
Preventive medicine: Healthcare screenings and immunizations
Diabetes is just one of three specialties offered through the Heritage Clinic. They also specialize in primary care and dermatology, offering a number of free screenings and services to qualified patients including breast cancer screenings; blood pressure, glucose, and cholesterol checks; childhood immunization clinics; sports physicals; and even school bus driver physicals at local public school systems.
As a leader in providing a patient-centered, clinically integrated medical education, OU-HCOM continues to find ways to respond to the region’s unmet healthcare needs and care for patients who lack adequate medical and healthcare alternatives. But the funding for these types of initiatives can be difficult to find.
Kathy Trace, director of OU-HCOM’s CHP, said she personally gives to the clinic to meet the needs of residents and "fill the gaps" left from funding shortages in particular areas.
"Right now, we have a financial shortage for some specific screening tests," she said. "While we continue to provide the screenings, private dollars are assisting."
As a nurse for more than 35 years, Trace has worked in almost every healthcare environment imaginable, so she has seen first-hand the need that exists for free, preventative healthcare screenings and immunizations –particularly in southeastern Ohio.
"There are resources out there that people do not know how to access because our systems have become so complicated," she explained. "I am from the area, so I know there is a great need in southeastern Ohio. I have seen the outcomes when people can get services versus when they cannot."
In 2011-2012, the Heritage Clinic provided care to 706 patients; 463 prescription vouchers were provided through the pharmaceutical Indigent Medication Programs; and $228,238 of free pharmaceutical assistance was provided to patients. Without the help of private funding, this would simply not be possible.
According to Trace, the numbers speak for themselves.
“In our most recent Annual Report, we were able to see to the dramatic results of our efforts,” she explained.
According to the report, in 2011-2012, 4,166 immunizations were provided to the community; 1,687 children were seen between the ages of birth and 18 years old; 3,639 free immunization shots were given to children for a value of $255,182; and the mobile unit visited six towns, serving 81 children ages 1 to 6 years old and 98 children 7 to 18 years old.
Though the numbers may appear impressive, Trace said they truly address only a fraction of the growing need that exists.
"With more and more people unable to access healthcare due to a lack of insurance, we recognize the growing need for our services," she said. "You never know when you or your family may need some assistance – no matter how you plan or how hard you work."
When asked what she would like to tell other faculty or staff about providing support for initiatives like the Heritage Clinic, she replied, "I believe it all comes back; if you help others, others will support and help you. Although life does have its ups and downs sometimes – after 35 years in the healthcare field – I know how lucky I am. We all need help from time to time, so I try to pay it forward."
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