Extending Access to Health
Rio Grande Regional Hospital’s outreach services provide a community safety net
Further cementing its role as a beacon of health care for our community, Rio Grande Regional Hospital makes continuous efforts to make health care accessible to everyone. Whether individuals are financially unstable or geographically isolated, the hospital serves patients through their Outreach Services located throughout Hidalgo County, which includes four multipurpose women’s clinics, a new family practice clinic, and three regional medical laboratories.
Healthy Women, Healthy Babies
Rio Grande Regional Hospital’s Women’s Services Department works in conjunction with their four Rio Grande Women’s clinics. “The clinics were created to serve the women of our community who do not have a relationship with an existing OB/GYN and need prenatal care or other medical services,” said Matt Wolthoff, Chief Operating Officer of Rio Grande Regional Hospital. Since the creation of the Women’s Clinics in 1997 by a group of local obstetricians, the outreach efforts have been very successful. The four clinics located in McAllen, La Joya, Alamo, and Edinburg provide a combined total of nearly 9,000 well woman care and pregnancy monitoring visits and accounted for almost 400 deliveries last year alone.
“All four state-of-the-art-locations have a perinatal certified nurse practitioner, and a board certified obstetrician as the medical director, ” Wolthoff said. The clinics are conveniently located to be more accessible to patients coming from rural areas and colonias. “We have a partnership with The Texas A&M Promotora Program,” Wolthoff said. “We value our partnership with the promotoras because jointly we are able to provide resources to a population that often doesn’t have access to care.” Through the partnership, educational material in English and Spanish is distributed to homes and community centers in rural areas. “It’s more than just providing health care — it’s providing education and getting the families started off on the right foot, taking care of themselves and their baby,” Wolthoff said.
Linda McKenna, Director of Clinical Operations, says transportation for these patients is a real challenge. “That’s why the location of our clinics is very important and we’re interested in adding additional clinics,” McKenna said. “It’s a convenient place for them to receive quality prenatal care for themselves and their babies.”
These services are especially important in underserved communities, where many of the deliveries fall into the high-risk area. “We see high-risk pregnancies, multiple C-sections, a high incidence of diabetics or ladies who develop gestational diabetes while pregnant that require really close monitoring. Rio Grande Regional Hospital provides care for babies who are born needing to go straight into our NICU, as well,” McKenna said. Rio Grande Regional Hospital also recognizes that many of the women utilizing their clinics likely don’t have a primary family doctor to visit after they deliver. With the establishment of the Family Practice Clinic, Rio Grande Regional Hospital is creating a bridge for patients to find resources for care. “Prenatal care over the course of a pregnancy results in a trusting relationship that develops between patient and nurse practitioner,” McKenna said. “We’re focusing now on extending that relationship to make sure the whole family is part of our program. If someone has a baby, we’re going to make sure they have continued access to care. That’s what family practice is all about.”
The Family Practice Clinic was part of a larger project that included putting a case manager in the emergency department. “We are trying to offer continuity of care after patients leave the ED to ensure everyone coming out of the ED has a follow up appointment if they need one,” Wolthoff said. If an individual doesn’t have a dedicated health care provider, they can find that care at our Family Practice Clinic. “Once we get them into our clinic, they’ll always have somewhere to go,” McKenna said.
Regional Medical Labs
In addition to providing health care and education at the women’s and family clinics, Rio Grande Regional Hospital provides individuals the opportunity to be proactive and monitor their own health at a low cost. Texas is among the 11 states in the U.S. that allow direct-to-consumer testing. This means individuals can get a number of lab screenings performed without a doctor’s order. In 1984, David Almquist, Laboratory Director at Rio Grande Regional Hospital, developed a wellness program that provided affordable access to lab tests. “The first year, we served 247 people,” Almquist said. “It’s been growing ever since.” In 1998, Rio Grande Regional Hospital opened the first regional lab in an effort to improve the community’s access to health care. Now, with three regional labs in addition to the lab at the main hospital where patients can walk in for services, they are performing over 65,000 tests per year. The regional labs also offer a heart source program where you can get an EKG reading of your heart. “We have many people who visit our labs and receive abnormal EKG results . These findings can then be shown to a cardiologist who can then address the findings accordingly. Offering these low cost services is a great way for many to manage their health,” Almquist said.
Once a person has a wellness screen, individuals can then take those lab results to their doctor, who can then move expediently in their diagnosis because they already have the information they need. According to Almquist, approximately 75-85 percent of the information a doctor needs for a diagnosis comes from blood. “We can tell you if you’re a candidate for congestive heart failure before it starts; we detect thyroid problems and various forms of cancers — we have a test for a bacteria that causes a lot of indigestion,” he says.
“We want to help you stay healthy. It is very important that we all become proactive about our health.”
Many people put off their health because of the high costs associated with health care, especially if they’re uninsured. Though the testing offered at the RGRH labs is quality work executed by certified medical technologists, they offer cash pricing to make it affordable for everyone. “These are comprehensive profiles with over 50 tests for the wellness screen, for example, that only costs $20. We offer a lot for a very low price.”
Almquist explains, “We have a mantra — if you come into our lab by 10 a.m., you can get results by 3 p.m. You get same-day service at all of our lab locations, 2 in McAllen and 1 in Alamo.”
Outreach efforts go beyond providing service at the regional labs and clinics. Almquist’s team goes out to RV parks, schools, businesses, and other locations almost every day — in January 2017, he visited 23 mobile parks to draw residents’ blood. “We see close to 4,000 people per year this way,” he said. After his explanation of the tests, they know how they can change their habits to affect the condition of their bodies.
This education is the transformative action that the RGV needs. “Rio Grande Regional Hospital is aiming to impact the wellness of the Rio Grande Valley,” Wolthoff said. “We want to be on the cutting edge and on the forefront of that, always providing our patients and the community with health care they can trust.”
To learn more about Rio Grande Regional Hospital’s outreach efforts, visit their website at www.RioHealth.com.