May 31, 2018
It wasn’t that long ago when UT Physicians clinics were located only in the Texas Medical Center. Today, we have more than 100 clinic locations, including 18 community-based clinics to serve our growing community. Our most recent clinic to open its doors was the UT Physicians – Jensen clinic.
I asked Andrew Casas, COO and vice president of UT Physicians, the clinical practice of McGovern Medical School, to give us an update on UTP’s growth and plans for the future.
What is UT Physicians’ growth strategy?
A lot of our growth has happened because of the Medicaid 1115 waiver. The premise of the waiver was to incentivize healthcare entities to take care of the underserved areas of their communities. We received 1115 funding in 2013 for an initial term of five years. The funding was extended by 18 months during which we applied and received approval for funding renewal, which is expected to continue until 2022. Since 2013, we’ve established 14 clinics through this funding mechanism—many in areas with unmet primary and specialty care needs, such as Jensen, Greens Road, Victory, Richmond/Rosenberg, The Heights, Southwest, and Beaumont. Our clinical presence has been a great benefit to these communities. As a result of this funding, we also expanded our already established community-based clinics in Bellaire, Cinco Ranch, Sienna Village, and Bayshore.
What has the impact been of our increased presence in these communities?
We saw a tremendous need for health care in these communities. The Greens area is a great example. When we first opened, our clinic staff routinely called for ambulances because patients presented at the clinic with life-threatening conditions requiring immediate intervention. As the Greens community has become more aware of the extended hours of Greens Clinic, we are able to manage the ongoing health needs of our patients to prevent life-threatening situations.
Over the past 5 years, UT Physicians also has implemented additional programs such as care coordination, health education/wellness, and medication management that enhance and address the comprehensive and complex health needs of our patients.
If the Medicaid 1115 waiver incentives end, what happens to these clinics? These patients?
Our goal is to ensure that these clinics are self-sustaining. We need to make sure people know that we staff a UT Physicians clinic close to where they live and/or work. We are committed to helping patients access convenient and affordable quality care. Transportation to our clinics is sometimes an issue for patients, and we are looking into ways to help. We provide care for everyone who comes to our clinics, with financial assistance for those in need.
How has UT Physicians improved access to health care for the community?
The number of patients we care for has grown from 98,302 in 2013 to 238,297 in 2017, a 142% increase. If you drew a 7-mile radius around each of our clinics now, we cover most of Houston – with the exception of far east Houston toward Beaumont. We have same-day appointment availability at many of our primary care community-based clinics. In addition, several community-based clinics have evening and Saturday appointments. We understand health concerns do not always happen during business hours; sometimes a patient or parent of a patient might have a health issue come up at 2 a.m. UTP patients can call our nurse triage line, 24 hours/7 days per week, to get an immediate consultation to decide whether the health issue requires urgent attention, or can wait
What is your future growth strategy?
With current coverage of the city, we are not planning additional growth at this time. We are working to increase the number of patients who are seen at our clinics, so we can sustain our established clinics. We hope to provide a true medical home for our patients, where they can be cared for by their PCP and specialists and their kids can be cared for by a pediatrician in one convenient location.
If the goal of the Medicaid 1115 waiver was to provide more care and to save money by offering preventive health services up front to prevent chronic conditions from becoming more serious, is it working?
Yes. We are seeing patients earlier and are saving Medicaid plans money by providing routine health care (such as immunizations and well-care exams) that many of these patients did not have in their communities prior to the Medicaid 1115 waiver. We also provide patients with additional support through care teams so they are better able to manage their chronic conditions such as diabetes or hypertension. This allows patients to better manage their own health at the same time that we try to contain healthcare costs.
An example of specialized care is our comprehensive sickle cell clinic. Patients living with sickle cell disease often have health crises that result in frequent emergency room visits and hospital admissions. Our clinic is working to help keep patients out of the ER and out of the hospital. This clinic is the only clinic in Houston that cares for both pediatric and adult sickle cell patients under one roof and offers a wide range of services, including hydration therapy and behavioral health.
Please join me in thanking Andrew Casas, and the entire UT Physicians enterprise, for improving access to care and bringing outstanding care to our greater Houston community.
P.S. The entire McGovern Medical School is invited to the Women Faculty Forum Excellence Awards Presentation Ceremony and Reception 4-6 p.m., Wednesday, June 6 in the Fifth Floor Gallery.