Of the many health-related programs in Lima, one that stood out for having a significant impact among low-income residents was the Neighborhood Nurse program. Not only did it offer care to homebound residents, but it taught people how to better take care of their health.
The fact that it was shut down this week by St. Rita’s Medical Center once again underscores the growing list of casualties caused by America’s broken health-care system.
The Neighborhood Nurse program was a classic example of an innovative approach of teaching people how to live a healthier lifestyle. It primarily served patients without insurance and limited means to pay for care. The idea was to provide health screenings and teach residents about preventative health-care techniques. As neighborhood nurse Denise Barnes noted, it “started as a way to think outside the box, to affect the health of our community, instead of taking care of train wrecks at our doorstep.”
Chalk up its demise to the recession and the nation’s ongoing trial-and-error approach to health-care reform.
When the hammer came down, it was all about dollars and cents — not enough money coming in, too much going out. In that regard, St. Rita’s showed it is wrestling with the same problem that private companies, public schools and governmental agencies are facing.
St. Rita’s has experienced a 15-percent increase in patients receiving financial assistance, requiring an additional $9.8 million in direct subsidy to provide those services, St. Rita’s Health Partners CEO Jim Reber said Wednesday.
The Neighborhood Nurse program was one of two programs eliminated as the hospital tries to close that gap. The other was the Med-Care Clinic, which sees 5,000 patients a year. It began in 1994 as a collaboration among St. Rita’s, Allen County Health Department, Lima Memorial Health System and physician volunteers. St. Rita’s eventually became the sole sponsor of the clinic, to the tune of $1 million a year. The clinic will be transitioned into a family practice run by St. Rita’s.
The one person that will truly be missed by residents is nurse Barnes. She was one of the true heroes of the Neighborhood Nurse program, bringing health care and a warm smile to people since the program began in 1996. A true diplomat, Barnes said she couldn’t complain since the program began as a year-long trial and exceeded expectations.
It’s too bad Democrats and Republicans in Congress couldn’t show that kind of diplomacy toward each other. Perhaps if they did, we would be on our way to true health-care reform. Instead, rising health-care costs continue to be one of the nation’s top job killers.