POSTED ON JULY 4, 2012:
New medical clinics on Tulsa's north side built with change in mind
In north Tulsa, the numbers look grim when it comes to neighborhood health. Researchers have found that residents in some areas on average die 14 years sooner than people living just a few miles to the south.
"There's not enough doctors around here at all," said Kelley Chappell, 33, a north Tulsa resident. From her home near Pine Street and North Cincinnati Avenue, she travels about eight miles to a University of Oklahoma-Tulsa clinic near East 41st Street South and South Yale Avenue for specialized care.
That could change soon. Two large health clinics will open in north Tulsa within weeks of each other this summer, each offering up new options for care in areas that local health experts say have been underserved.
Leaders with the two main organizations behind the separate projects -- the Tulsa Health Department and the University of Oklahoma-Tulsa -- speak cautiously about what it takes to truly improve public health, however.
"What we have learned over the last six years, since we started having discussions with north Tulsa residents, is that there are multiple social factors that impact a person's health," said Reggie Ivey, the health department's chief operating officer.
Dr. Gerard Clancy, president of the University of Oklahoma-Tulsa, described improving the health of an area as "a very complicated and long-term project."
And there are other challenges as well, not the least of which is finding consistent revenue to support ambitious goals. Project leaders say they have crafted the clinics through focus groups and community input, even as they go about trying to make change for the better.
In August, the doors are expected to open at a new clinic run by the health department, with doctors from Oklahoma State University Physicians Practice Group staffing the clinic.
The North Regional Health and Wellness Center at East 56th Street North and North Cincinnati Avenue will offer primary care options and women's health care specialists, as well as health department staples like immunizations.
"The whole focus is prevention and wellness," Ivey said, though it will also be a place where people can walk in to see a doctor.
At the other clinic, specialized care is the goal, along with evening care for walk-in patients. The Wayman Tisdale Specialty Health Center should open this month. The approximately 50,000-square-foot building at East 36th Street North and North Hartford Avenue will eventually feature specialists in kidney disease and urology, among other areas.
But don't expect the clinic -- an approximately $20-million project built with a mix of state and private funding -- to try and raise its profile much before serving its first patients, Clancy said.
"The traditional way that a clinic opens is a lot of fanfare and a lot of advertising. We're not ready for that," he said. To start, the clinic will offer pediatric care and internal medicine doctors, partnering with Morton Comprehensive Health Services (which in 2006 opened a clinic southwest of East Pine Street and North Peoria Avenue) to help staff the facility. By the fall, the clinic should be offering after-hours, urgent care services, Clancy said.
Clancy has no problem describing ambitions for the clinic. Plans call for more specialties to be added later on, including skin specialists and psychiatrists, among others, with "probably 30 to 40 doctors" at any single time "when we're at full strength, but that will take some time."
Depending on community needs, Clancy said the clinic wants to be able to adjust "and make sure financially we can make it work as well." He added: "We don't want to overextend ourselves, and we don't want to overpromise."
The concept has already changed substantially from ideas proposed more than five years ago to build "healthplexes" serving north Tulsa.
After meeting with focus groups, however, "there was a lot of concern that this concept of a super clinic would compete in a negative way with what was already established," Clancy said.
The goal now is to bring in specialists to complement existing health care providers. On the same block, a pharmacy and the Neighbor for Neighbor nonprofit center offer some health services. Neighbor for Neighbor also operates a small medical clinic.
With OU's involvement, Clancy said the clinic will also serve as a teaching resource for medical residents and students. On June 21, a $30 million donation from the local Oxley Foundation was announced for the proposed School of Community Medicine, a joint-partnership between OU and the University of Tulsa.
"The Tisdale clinic is a very clear example of what the School of Community Medicine is trying to do," Clancy said, explaining that the idea is to put university resources "on the ground" and into the community.
For students, "we want them to be much more than clinicians," Clancy said. "We also want them to feel like they have the skills to engineer a better health care system."
Both clinics will offer sliding-scale payment options, but will mainly rely on payment for services to stay open as medical clinics.
"You do have to have a mix of people who do have some kind of payer source," said Jim Hess, chief operating officer for the Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences and chief executive officer for OSU Physicians Practice Group.
As far as patient care, the health department clinic will complement the Tisdale clinic, he said.
"They're going to focus a lot on specialty care, and we're going to be focusing a lot on primary care," Hess said.
To start, some days the North Regional clinic will have two doctors on staff. Other days, there will only be one doctor. But obstetrics and gynecology services will always be a focus, Hess said.
Ivey said the health department's North Regional clinic also aims to ratchet up the level of follow-up by offering "intensive case management services" to keep tabs on patients "whether through telephone follow-up or in their homes."
The site aims to be more than a place for sick people to go. With plenty of green space, the site will double as a walking trail. Household cooks can spend time in a demonstration kitchen to learn more about healthy meal preparation.
Like Clancy, Ivey stressed the involvement of the public in the project.
"The community actually designed this clinic," Ivey said.
In north Tulsa, run-down housing, safety concerns and transportation struggles can make living a healthy life difficult, Ivey said.
"Providing more health services alone will not change the health statistics for north Tulsa," Ivey said.
Along with having more doctors, "the greatest impact that these initiatives can have is coordinated efforts, and that is going to be key," he said. Included in that is an area-wide health technology initiative to let doctors better share patient information, Ivey said.
Clancy said that while, overall, Tulsa and Oklahoma still struggle with dismal health rankings compared to other cities and states, new efforts make Tulsa health care stand out in a different way.
"How the community is coming together, and how our legislative leaders and our private donors have come together, I think we're as progressive and have as much momentum as any community in the entire country right now," Clancy said.
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