Monday Medical: Center to provide safety net

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In spring 2011, Gil Fifield needed to see a doctor. Hip surgery, lack of exercise and poor eating habits acquired during shuttle driving shifts had set off a health decline. Fifield had stomach pain, problems breathing and needed to lose weight.

Fifield, 61, didn’t have health insurance, so he turned to the Community Health Center in Craig, a program of the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, where he was examined by a doctor.

Fifield found out that he had diabetes and was in the early stages of kidney disease. His doctor and health center educators helped him improve his lifestyle with better nutrition, exercise and diabetes management. With work, he stabilized his blood sugar and reversed his path toward kidney disease.

“It’s been a lifesaver,” said Fifield, who receives ongoing support from health center staff. Knowing he has a place to turn to when he has questions or concerns “feels extremely good,” he said.

Routt County residents like Fifield who face financial and other barriers to receiving medical care soon will be able to see a doctor and receive health support services on a sliding fee scale at the Northwest Colorado VNA in Steamboat.

Earlier this year, the Steamboat office received a $650,000 grant and designation as a Federally Qualified Health Center from the Health Services Resources Administration. This allows the VNA to offer primary care in addition to existing disease prevention and management, Aging Well, public health and home-based services.

“It provides the opportunity for people to see a medical provider regardless of their economic situation,” said Lisa Brown, CEO of the Northwest Colorado VNA.

VNA staff has been busy adjusting its Steamboat location in the Yampa Valley Medical Center office building to accommodate doctors, additional medical staff and exam rooms. They expect to open the Community Health Center in October.

The health center will be among about 1,200 Community Health Centers located throughout the nation in areas where significant populations have limited access to health care.

Nearly one-third of Routt County residents are uninsured or underinsured, according to the Colorado Health Institute. Routt County residents make up about 15 percent of patients at the Community Health Center in VNA’s Craig office, which opened in 2009.

“This is really a system designed to act as a safety net in the community,” Brown said.

Primary care is an important link in a process designed to gauge patients’ health and give them the tools to actively take part in feeling better. Patients with chronic health problems receive support from programs helping them slow or reverse health damage by quitting tobacco, exercising, monitoring cholesterol and blood sugar, exercising and improving diet.

“No matter who you are or where you are in life, you can always be healthier,” Brown said.

Prevention tools, paired with patients’ commitment, can prevent serious health complications resulting in expensive emergency room visits and hospital stays.

Community Health Centers save the health care system about $24 billion per year or $1,263 per patient, according to the National Association of Community Health Centers.

In addition to direct care and support, Community Health Center patients also may be eligible for prescription assistance. To date, patients at the Community Health Center in Craig have received medications with a wholesale value of $1 million through the prescription assistance program.

Community Health Center patients also benefit from referrals for specialized services with partners including Colorado West Regional Mental Health and Northwest Colorado Dental Coalition.

For more information about VNA’S Community Health Center in Steamboat Springs, call 970-879-1632. Learn more about Gil Fifield’s story and view additional community health stories at www.nwcov

na.org.

Tamera Manzanares is a community outreach specialist for the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association.

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