Monday, January 11, 2010

Health Costs - Poverty, Poor Health, and Project Health

Filling in Information Gaps and Reducing Costs

Doctors have known two things for a long time.

One, costs skyrocket when you’re treating poor patients. When poor patients, who are sicker than most in the first place, go home, after being treated, they often return to their doctors sicker than ever because of miserable conditions at home. That’s why Medicare costs are highest in cities with poverty ghettos and in poor regions, such as the American South. Poverty is the main reason for regional cost spikes, not professional greed or overuse of resources.

Two, you may be able to treat diseases effectively and cost-efficiently , but once poor patients return to poverty-striken environments, with hopelessness, homeliness, domestic abuse, inferior education, lack of affordable care, malnutrition, high risk life styles, obesity, alcoholism, and diabetes run rampant, and their health suffers. all bets are off as far as controlling costs.

If you seek a graphic example of what can occur, I recommend you see the movie "Precious."

Dealing positively with poverty takes nimble thinking across multiple strata of society, cultures, and disciplines; leadership and keen sense of social responsibility; the art and science of new organization models; and, in some cases, imagination by someone young with originally thoughts who thinks anything is possible.

Enter Rebecca Onie. As a 19 year old sophomore at Harvard, she started visiting the Pediatrics Department at Boston Medical Center. She asked a doctor there,
“If you had unlimited resources, what would you do to help your patients?”

According to Onie, a pediatrician answered, “I have a kid who comes in with an ear infection, and I prescribe antibiotics, Meanwhile, the real issue is that there's no food at home, or the family is living in a car. It is that connection between health and poverty, all too often unaddressed.”

It is this connection that pushed Onie to found Project Health in 1996.

Project Health now serves 4000 families annually in Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, New York City, Providence, and Washington, D.C. Project Health recruits 600 undergraduate volunteers annually to partner with physicians and other health care professionals to connect families in pediatric clinics, newborn nurseries, adolescent clinics, ob-gyn clinics, pediatric emergency rooms, and community health centers with resources they need to stay healthy.

Doctors in participating clinics can write non-medical prescriptions for assisting patients with utilities, housing vouchers, and such things as child care. Patients then take their prescriptions to a Project Health Desk, where a college volunteer helps them find what they need. Young college students with energy to burn, idealism to exercise, and drive to serve society are wonderful embassadors for the medical profession and a great asset to the poor.

After founding Project Health, Onie became an assistant to a prominent federal judge, and a practicing attorney. After serving as Co-Chair for Project Health, she returned as CEO in 2006.

Onie, now 32, has won numerous awards. Among them are: The Kennedy Foundation Award to Americans under 40 who make a difference in their communities and the nation, the Time Magazine Gala 100 for 100 prominent young Americans , and the MacArthur Fellowship Award of $500,000, with no strings attached , for “exceptional creativity, promise of important future advances based on a track record of significant achievement, and potential to facilitate subsequent creative work.”


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