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FOCUS ON THE PATIENT: EversCare examines the whole picture

Published on Monday, June 1, 2015

By: Ruth Cummins at 601-984-1104 or ricummins@umc.edu.

Published on June 01, 2015

A person's asthma could be triggered by animal dander, mold, cockroaches, dust mites or other airborne allergens at his home.

A child could suffer a deep, jagged cut because she played in a dangerous area, because she had no safe parks, because her parents couldn't afford to live in a better neighborhood. 

It's not unusual for a patient's medical problem to be caused by factors that are entirely non-medical. 

EversCare, a program set to open this fall, will be offered at the Jackson Medical Mall through the Myrlie Evers-Williams Institute for the Elimination of Health Disparities and will connect families and individuals to community resources that will help them address root environmental factors that are affecting their health.

"We recently conducted the RICE Bowl, and Dr. Evers-Williams was in the audience," said Dr. Bettina Beech, UMMC's associate vice chancellor of population health and professor of family medicine and pediatrics.

Dr. Bettina Beech
Dr. Bettina Beech

The Rural Interdisciplinary Case Experience (RICE) Bowl is an interdisciplinary health-care competition in which UMMC students from academic disciplines ranging from law to social work collaborate in teams to address complex rural health issues.

After hearing a case example of a family struggling with finding health care, Evers-Williams "couldn't get the family out of her mind. She asked, 'Where are the resources?' She was so troubled by that. I thought, 'We've got to address this,'" Beech said. 

EversCare will address the whole patient by linking them with community resources that will help them with social, economic and environmental issues impacting one or more aspects of their health. 

The program's focus will include what's called "social determinants of health." They are economic stability, education, social and community context, health and health care, and neighborhood and environment, as defined by the federal disease prevention initiative Healthy People 2020. 

"It's the upstream factors that we're trying to address, and you can't do that without community resources," Beech said. "We are partnering and creating new connections." 

Dr. James Keeton, former vice chancellor for health affairs, and his successor, Dr. LouAnn Woodward, share in the vision of EversCare. "They have talked about us having a larger responsibility to take care of everyone, regardless of if they're a patient in our system," Beech said. "We will have improved the health in our state." 

One potential community partner is the Mississippi Food Network in Jackson, which each year supplies 24.4 million pounds of food to help feed the 600,000 state residents who live at or below the poverty level. Beech is a member of MFN's board of directors and also serves as executive director of the Myrlie Evers-Williams Institute. 

"Those people are defined by the federal government as 'food insecure,' which means they don't always know where the next meal is coming from," said Dr. Charles H. Beady Jr., Mississippi Food Network's CEO.

"If they are food insecure, then they are probably dealing with other health issues," he said. "We have one of the highest rates of diabetes in the nation. People who are hungry often don't understand the difference between nutrients and calories. They sometimes eat whatever they can get their hands on, and often don't make the right food choices." 

Mississippi Food Network partners with 415 agencies, including food pantries, soup kitchens and homeless shelters, to get food to the hungry. Those agencies are critically important in a state where one out of four children goes to bed hungry most every night. 

"There are other resources, such as the Barksdale Reading Institute, the mayor's job training program, shelters for abused women and their children," Beech said. "These things come up in medical encounters." 

Beech uses as an example the philosophy of Dr. Jack Geiger, founding member and past president of Physicians for Human Rights and Physicians for Social Responsibility. Geiger decades ago created the Delta Health Center project in Bolivar County, where poverty, hunger, illness and high morbidity were commonplace. 

"The last time I checked my textbooks, the specific therapy for malnutrition was, in fact, food," Geiger was quoted as saying in 1965. He wrote prescriptions for food and gave them to his Delta patients suffering from malnutrition. They took them to the local grocery, which gave them food and billed Geiger's clinic. 

The national nonprofit Health Leads, which advocates a health-care system that addresses all of a patient's basic health-care needs, works in urban areas much larger than Jackson, Beech said. "But, the concept for their program has roots in Mississippi. Our (EversCare) model uses a similar approach, but it addresses the needs of diverse populations, including those living in rural and suburban areas." 

The traditional role of a health-care clinic usually does not include asking questions about community resources or other social or environmental factors that can play into a patient's health and well-being, Beech said. "A physician can provide a plan to address health issues, but if patients return to the same environment that is making them sick, the likelihood of patients getting well is minimized," she said.

The challenge is to directly gather that information from all patients, said Dr. Diane Beebe, chair of the Department of Family Medicine. "And we make assumptions.

"It's easy to say we need to ask every patient about this, but some of these areas can be very delicate, and very threatening to the patient," she said. "It might be embarrassing, or they might be perceived as being not socially acceptable.

"We have to really engage the patient to start thinking about what's impacting their health beyond just their disease: physical, mental and social well-being, the places you live, accessibility you have to resources." 

EversCare patients will receive primary health care locally, including at UMMC's clinics and hospitals, Beech said. "We're trying to add value by addressing the social aspects as well. At UMMC, we are going to start asking those questions, and within our own system, we can bring resources to bear that will help." 

A nurse practitioner will serve as clinic manager of EversCare, Beech said. That person can quickly detect if those getting services at EversCare also need referrals to physicians. The office will be more spacious than a regular clinic. Patients can make appointments or walk in. 

"It will be very family friendly. We can spend more time with them as we refer them to resources," Beech said. 

EversCare will prove a valuable training ground for Medical Center students, Beebe said. Both current health-care professionals and students need to be educated on how to ask their patients non-medical questions, Beebe said. 

"Health is more than just health care," Beech said. 


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