New health care subsidies target inner-Beltway communities -- Gazette.Net


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Municipal and Prince George’s County officials hope that state money to subsidize primary care practices will improve inner-Beltway community residents’ access to health care and decrease their reliance on the emergency room.

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown (D) announced in January that Seat Pleasant, Fairmount Heights and Capitol Heights would form one of the county’s five Health Enterprise Zones, which will get additional funding to attract primary care providers as well as preventative efforts to promote nutrition and healthy lifestyles.

Dr. Ernest L. Carter, deputy health officer at the county’s health department, said the county is receiving a grant from the state for $5 million over the next four years, all of which will be used in the ZIP code that includes the three municipalities. He said the area is one of the worst in the state in terms of the ratio between physicians and residents.

“There are virtually no physicians per 3,500 residents,” Carter said. “The health indicators are significantly not meeting the U.S. [public health] standards.”

Carter said the Capitol Heights area’s provider to population ratio of about 1 provider per 3,500 residents is far below the national standard ratio of 1 to 2,000. When patients don’t have easy access to primary and preventative care, they tend to over-utilize the emergency room, causing both an unnecessary financial burden both for themselves and for the health care system, Carter said.

“When you don’t have primary care you tend to let your diseased state go, so when you do get care you have to be hospitalized,” he said. “And because they have disjointed care, their medical records aren’t available and a lot of times they can’t describe all of the health events in their life. They end up having redundancies of care like repeat X-rays, so almost everything that causes costs to go up are a function of not being able to access primary care.”

Much of the annual $1.2 million in funding will go toward helping physicians set up primary care facilities in the area, Carter said, from tax breaks to loans and other subsidies. The rest of the funding will go toward other initiatives, like health screenings and informational sessions, he said.

And the county hopes to coordinate with municipalities conducting their own outreach efforts, Carter said.

Seat Pleasant Mayor Eugene Grant said that he wants to set up a “health house” to host regular events for residents, from health screenings and blood testing to workshops on healthy eating, exercise and diabetes management.

“Those kinds of educational things are what help to give the desired health outcomes we expect,” Grant said. “...By doing all of these things [with increased primary care access], we believe we can realize a reduction in the utilization of the ER, reducing re-admission rates and making sure people don’t use the hospital like a clinic.”

Fairmount Heights Mayor Lillie Thompson-Martin said she wants the municipalities to work closely to provide workshops and outreach programs for residents.

She said an initiative that should not be overlooked is improving access to healthy food and produce, which she said currently pales in comparison to the amount of fast food readily available in her town. Martin said the closest full-service grocery store to her municipality is a Shoppers Food Warehouse in Landover.

“The way things are shaping up, so many of our residents have diabetes and high blood pressure and other detrimental diagnoses,” Thompson-Martin said. “I’ve found that our food supply has so much to do with these different diseases. Since people don’t have access to quality food, I want to start making some of those things available, so you can walk down to the corner and get a nice, nutritious meal.”

ewagner@gazette.net