Panel created to plan health center

Adventist HealthCare looks at serving the underserved

Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2005

Washington Adventist Hospital has launched its effort to address inequalities in access to health care with the appointment of a panel that will guide the creation of a Center on Health Disparities.

The center is part of a six-point strategic plan announced in September by the hospital and its nonprofit corporate parent, Rockville-based Adventist HealthCare, to better position Washington Adventist for its next century of service. The plan also includes moving the Takoma Park hospital, which opened in 1907, to a larger non-residential site somewhere outside of the city and opening a separate urgent care clinic near Flower Avenue and Arliss Street in the Long Branch neighborhood of Silver Spring.

Bill Robertson, president and chief executive of Adventist HealthCare, said the panel would start with a blank slate because at this point, hospital executives aren’t sure what exact form the center will take once it is created.

‘‘That’s the $100,000 question, and that is what this blue-ribbon panel is being constituted to help us shape,” Robertson said Monday. ‘‘The only preconceived notion that we bring to this is that what is going on now with relation to health disparities in our society isn’t effective.”

The 22-member panel, which includes doctors, nurses and health policy experts from a number of local agencies and consulting groups, will help the hospital determine the best way to provide services to traditionally underserved communities, including the uninsured, the underinsured, and the area’s immigrant population.

‘‘It’s about how do we deliver care that is appropriate to the communities that we serve,” Robertson said. ‘‘That’s very relevant to us at Washington Adventist in particular, but more broadly to Adventist HealthCare as a whole.” Adventist HealthCare also includes Rockville’s Shady Grove Adventist Hospital and a number of other local institutions that focus on care for seniors, rehabilitation services and home health care.

Employees at Washington Adventist speak 68 languages, he added, ‘‘and the community served is as diverse. When you’re building a new facility, you can shape it in ways that are difficult for a facility that is already there. This is our chance to get it right.”

The hospital will ask the panel to begin by looking at three areas, including improving educational opportunities in health care for people in underserved communities, as well as providing better geographic access to care and using current research to determine how to best deliver services.

Finding the best cultural approaches in the three focus areas is important, because of unique cultural sensitivities found in each immigrant community, said Gathoni Kamau of the Washington, D.C.,-based African Immigrant and Refugee Foundation. Kamau’s mother, foundation director Wanjiru Kamau, will serve on the panel but is currently out of the country.

‘‘Already we’ve provided some of the health establishments with training workshops to help personnel in hospitals understand African immigrants,” Gathoni Kamau said, ‘‘and we’ve provided the trainings to Africans, as well.”

Working with a community that comes from a continent where thousands of languages and local dialects are spoken provides another challenge, she said. Helping immigrants, especially those with professional backgrounds in health, learn to speak and read English and directing young people toward careers in health care will help address some of the existing issues.

The diversity of the center’s panelists also will help resolve some of the health care disparities, said Patricia Horton, a registered nurse who is senior administrator of the county’s Office of Minority and Multicultural Health and a member of the panel.

‘‘Many of the individuals do work in the field of health disparity, and many on the panel also work on a day-to-day basis with individuals and who know what people are experiencing on a daily basis.”

Horton said the panel’s community-based approach would not only begin to address the problem, but also would empower others to become part of the solution. ‘‘When you have the community involved, then everyone has the opportunity to say, ‘Yes, there are disparities, but we can do something about it.’ Everyone should have a voice, and having the community involved definitely will help us address some of these disparities.”

The panel will meet for the first time early next month, and the first set of findings and recommendations could be ready by late spring or early summer, said Adventist HealthCare spokeswoman Euphia Hsu Smith.

Robertson said Adventist HealthCare is hoping for ‘‘... a set of recommendations about how to go forward in terms of staffing, reaching out into the community, connections that we need, areas of first focus potentially, maybe some recommendations about partnership or funding opportunities. ... We don’t want [the center] to be just a single location. If we say that the Center on Health Disparities is a single address, we won’t be as effective as if we have, in some small way, mobilized the whole of Adventist HealthCare and the entire community.”