The Alief neighborhood in Houston, Texas is one of the most diverse communities in the country — in fact, more than 80 different languages and dialects are spoken in this suburb. With diversity of ethnicity comes diversity of needs, especially when it comes to health and well-being.
One of the biggest health issues the Alief neighborhood faces, is access to primary care and behavioral health support. Texas has the highest rate of uninsured non-elderly adults in the country with Harris county’s rate being above the state average and nearly twice the national average. Those that are insured by Medicaid struggle to access care, as the area has well below the national average of primary care providers who are willing to accept Medicaid.
Along with physical health needs, behavioral support including assistance managing mental health challenges and accessing social services is even more complex. Collaborative models, where physical and behavioral needs are solved for jointly, are infrequent in the area but vital to promoting health for the most vulnerable patients.
Many patients in this neighborhood struggle to find a culturally sensitive primary care provider to address their physical health concerns, coupled with behavioral health support to help them manage their overall health needs. As a result, they may go to an emergency room to receive care, which can be costly and unnecessary. Or they avoid seeking care altogether.
To help address this problem and provide improved access to care, the first UnitedHealthcare Neighborhood Clinic began serving Community Plan Medicaid members, as well as those uninsured, on Feb. 7 in the Alief neighborhood.
The clinic offers medical, behavioral and social support and adopts a holistic approach to address the needs of patients of all ages. Clinical staff was strategically hired to support a broad range of needs including basic wellness checks, chronic condition management and even medication-assisted treatment for those struggling with addiction.
“We’re seeing quite a bit of young patients with a lot of complex needs,” said Dr. Patrice Latimer. “I’ve been able to connect patients with complex needs to care with our social worker, and see them come out smiling and hugging.”
The clinic also provides around the clock, over-the-phone services through its Concierge team including scheduling, virtual care and a nurse-led helpline to address medical concerns and help patients find the best care options. Whether in person or over-the-phone, access to on-demand translation capabilities is available to support the diverse language needs of its patients.
Taking a different approach to improve the customer experience, the clinic puts an emphasis on digital integration and tighter coordination among the clinicians involved in a person’s care. Patients check-in at a digital kiosk and are immediately guided to treatment within the clinic, eliminating the need to explain their symptoms to multiple people before seeing a provider.
The clinic is also implementing expanded telehealth capabilities to meet patients where they live in order to mitigate common transportation and time constraints that often make it challenging for patients to be seen in person. Through this process, the clinic will be able to deliver continuous care with trusted local providers resulting in improved health outcomes.
Within the clinical environment, the entire care team – medical, social and behavioral professionals and support staff – work together in an open setting to review patients holistically. The openness promotes interaction, allowing the team of providers to diagnose patients and create collaborative care plans.
“It’s essential that all of our care settings are driven by a whole-person approach that integrates physical health, behavioral health and social services,” said Heather Cianfrocco, CEO of UnitedHealthcare Community & State.
In an effort to improve access to care for underserved populations across the nation, UnitedHealthcare intends to open additional clinics in other select communities. The clinics are strategically located in underserved areas that have high uninsured rates along with a high density of UnitedHealthcare Community Plan Medicaid members and a shortage of primary care providers available to serve them. The second site will open late spring 2019 in the Papago neighborhood in Tempe, Arizona.
“We’re thinking differently about health care access,” Cianfrocco said. “It’s not just a commitment to health care access, but a commitment to how that care is delivered and how it supports a person’s well-being and quality of life.”