By Justin Sondel
Niagara Gazette — Local officials and health care professionals gathered Friday at Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center to celebrate the hospital's designation as Niagara County's first state-designated "Health Home."
The Niagara Falls Memorial Health Home will be a collaborative effort of 46 medical services partners that will work together to monitor patients with multiple needs and provide them with support services.
The new network will focus on patients with multiple needs who struggle to navigate the healthcare system and, in many cases, find their way to costly emergency room care.
"We must collaborate with community partners if many of these patients are to not only have their healthcare requirements met but receive the social support they need to avoid emergency services or hospitalization," said Memorial Medical Center's President and Chief Executive Officer Joseph Ruffolo. "This is an entirely new approach, a groundbreaking process that changes the role of our hospital in a profound way."
U.S. Rep. Brian Higgins, D - Buffalo and Niagara Falls, was on hand to congratulate hospital staff for winning the designation from the New York State Department of Health.
Higgins, who was assigned to a committee that helped write President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act, said the health home program addresses many of the issues with the American health care system he came across while working on that bill.
"You here, by this collaboration, are beginning that first step toward promoting innovation, collaboration and efficient and effective delivery of health care services," Higgins said. "It's an important first step that requires leadership and vision."
The health home designation is awarded to facilities who qualify for the state program, which promotes information sharing between the health care providers for Medicaid recipients in an effort to reduce costs by encouraging preventative medicine, avoiding duplicative services and promoting better overall health in those patients. The program aims to consider things like diet and housing conditions in an effort to make emergency room visits and hospital stays less frequent, according to press materials handed out by the hospital's public relations staff.
Sheila Kee, the hospital's vice president and chief operating officer, took a lead role in Memorial's bid for the designation.
She said the health home is not a physical place but rather a community coming together to make sure that some of Niagara County's most vulnerable people receive the care they need.
"We have built, together, a beautiful mosaic," Kee said.
And the support services will also help patients advance themselves in ways outside of their health, Kee said.
"It's not just coming in to clinics," Kee said. "We're going to get them working in jobs they can feel proud of."
The Niagara Falls Memorial Health Home offices will be run out of a space on the seventh floor of the hospital's parking ramp. Those offices will act as a home base for the health home's Medical Director Amarpreet Grewal-Bath, M.D. and Administrative Director Vicki Landes, R.N., B.S.N. From the offices, Grewal-Bath and Landes will work to coordinate care and information to make sure that patients are taking medication, paying their bills and have a safe place to live.
Grewal-Bath said she is excited about the potential this program has to help people suffering from chronic ailments and challenges such as mental health issues and addiction.
"It will be the ultimate reward to see a patient turn his or her life around just by connecting to the resources we have to offer with our health home," Grewal-Bath said.
Mayor Paul Dyster, who spent many hours at NFMMC following around his father - a physician - said that the health care world has changed drastically in the last few decades.
"We moved into some kind of health care model where somehow we started to look at the doctor's office and the hospitals as businesses and ourselves as customers, which is the wrong way to look at this," Dyster said.
Memorial's home health program is proof that the industry is beginning to circle back to the individual care of days past, Dyster said.
"Really what we should have been trying to strive for is the creation of a partnership between patient and doctor," he said.