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Health center getting upgrade
archived from: 2013-09-20
by: John Franko

Project anticipates more people without health insurance

Even with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, millions of Americans will still fall through the safety net and not have health insurance.

The Catholic Charities Free Health Care Center is taking measures to ensure that it can answer the needs that will arise. It has initiated a two-phase renovation plan that will convert two floors into medical and dental suites.

“In a world where our dream is that everyone has access to high-quality health care — medical and dental — we appreciate and certainly support any initiative that expands coverage for individuals who would otherwise fall through the cracks, but we know unequivocally that there will continue to be individuals who will not be able to be served through the implementation of the ACA,” said Annette Fetchko, center administrator.

Fetchko pointed out that the ACA was never intended to cover all Americans and will leave 26 million people nationwide without health care coverage. In addition, she noted, the commonwealth of Pennsylvania has chosen not to expand medical assistance from 100 percent to 138 percent of the federal poverty guidelines. The result will be that more than 800,000 non-elderly individuals — some 27 percent — will remain uninsured. In western Pennsylvania, the figure could be as high as 200,000.

Some, she added, may simply be confused by the entire enrollment process. Fetchko said demand for services at the health center could increase as much as 20 percent. The center currently serves some 800 patients a month.

The health care center rents space from Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Pittsburgh at its Downtown Pittsburgh location on Ninth Street.

The first phase of the project will involve renovation of the building’s second floor in order to relocate its medical delivery model and expand it from four medical suites to six. Demolition began the first week of August and construction is expected to be completed by the end of November.

The transfer of medical services will begin in December and the new suites should be fully operational by Jan. 1. The projected cost for the first phase is $350,000.

The second phase will involve a third-floor renovation that will allow the facility to expand from four to six dental suites. It will also involve the relocation of some volunteer and administrative support offices, helping the center save on lease costs and adopt a more effective delivery model.

Funding is still being secured for the second phase, and it is hoped that it will be able to proceed in a few months. The projected cost for the phase is also estimated to be about $350,000.

Fetchko said that soon after the center opened in November 2007, the need for dental services was recognized and they were soon offered. As other needs were recognized, the continuum of care model was expanded to include additional primary care services and volunteer specialty services. The center sees the same disease categories as a private physician’s office, she noted. They include conditions such as diabetes, hypertension and hyperlipidemia (high cholesterol).

Administrators recognized the need to recruit cardiologists, endocrinologists, podiatrists and ophthalmologists to treat them.

“We’ve developed a very comprehensive volunteer model that includes primary care and some specialty services,” Fetchko said.

In addition, she noted, there is a strong physical therapy component. Without it, acute conditions can worsen into more serious chronic conditions that would require costlier, higher levels of care. The center partners with the Duquesne University School of Health Sciences.

Another joy, she said, is the recent increase in the facility’s women’s health services component. It sees many single heads of households who worry about everyone else, but neglect to take care of themselves.

“They know that if they don’t start taking care of their health, they’re not going to take care of their families,” Fetchko said. “We really see that as a wonderful addition to the mission and the individuals that we serve.” The services include annual gynecological exams, pap smears and testing for cervical conditions.

“Some of them have not seen a doctor, let alone a gynecologist, for years,” she added.

Fetchko pointed out that the health care center is often referred to as the “Miracle on Ninth Street.” It is a reference, she said, that has merit.

It could involve something as simple as someone offering a “thank you” for their blood pressure medication, or gratitude for restoring a smile that will give someone the confidence to go out and get a job.

“We know that’s true because we have so many examples,” she said. The facility partners with the University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine.

And there are more dramatic cases, such as the woman who developed kidney failure. She went on dialysis and was placed on a kidney transplant list. In order to be eligible for transplant services, Fetchko noted, the woman had to have dental service every three months to be cleared as infection free in the event that a kidney became available.

Last October, she received a new kidney and is now off dialysis.

“She would call that a miracle,” Fetchko said.

The center has an annual operating budget of approximately $1 million. It also recognizes the equivalent of some $1.6 million in service hours annually from its 190 volunteers.

“Our story is really our volunteers,” Fetchko said.

As a volunteer in medicine model, the center receives no federal funding. It operates on gifts from foundations, corporations and individuals, and from funds generated by special events. It receives no direct funding from the diocese or Catholic Charities.

It is one of the organizations, however, that will be supported by the Diocese of Pittsburgh’s Our Campaign for The Church Alive!

Fetchko said the center would not be able to function without the support of the diocese and Catholic Charities.

“They have been good stewards and great partners,” she said. “Any benefit that we receive as a result of the capital campaign speaks directly to Bishop (David) Zubik's commitment and service to the mission of the Catholic Charities Free Health Care Center.”

More information on the center is available at www.freecarepgh.com, or by calling 412-456-6910.




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