Geisinger program aims to eliminate barriers to health care for most vulnerable
By Michael Iorfino
(Published: August 6, 2014)
Some fear having to pay steep medical costs. Others struggle to find rides to their appointments or are not aware of medical resources available locally.
As the region’s demand for health care services grows, Geisinger Health System launched a pilot program in Scranton aimed at eliminating the barriers to care for the most vulnerable — the area’s underinsured and uninsured.
“If we really want to take care of populations and geographies, there’s a whole bunch of patients that are sort of getting left behind,” said Thomas Graf, M.D., chief medical officer for population health and longitudinal care at Geisinger.
The program, called a “Proven Wellness Neighborhood,” relies on its staff to identify patients’ needs and connect them with resources, such as arranging transportation, teaching healthy lifestyle behaviors or determining if patients are eligible for health insurance.
For example, they could direct an ill patient who lacks health insurance to the Edward R. Leahy Jr. Center Clinic for the Uninsured, one of the organizations coordinating with the program.
Dr. Graf expects the program’s staff — two social workers and two community health agents — to serve at least 1,000 Medicare, Medicaid and uninsured or underinsured patients in the first year. That number should jump to 17,000 in the second year, when the staff grows and awareness of the program increases.
Many patients will be referred to the program by physicians at Geisinger Mount Pleasant in Scranton or the Honesdale Family Health Center, the two “hubs” where staff members will be based, he said.
The program is mainly funded by a $600,000 grant via the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation.
“Ideally, if we can continue to expand and scale this, we would like to cover all of Northeast Pennsylvania,” Dr. Graf said. “The community need (in Scranton) was real.”