Health Care Access is saving Lawrence Memorial Hospital at least $1 million a year, according to a study released Tuesday.
"We're making a difference. We're keeping people out of the emergency room and out of the hospital," said Nikki Rhea, executive director of the nonprofit medical clinic for the uninsured.
The study, conducted by Betty Smith-Campbell, an assistant professor in the School of Nursing at Wichita State University, found:
- The number of insured-patient visits to the emergency room more than doubled from 1990 to 2001, while the number of uninsured-patient visits went down 25 percent.
- There's a strong correlation between Health Care Access seeing more patients and fewer uninsured patients showing up at the emergency room.
- If Health Care Access prevented one-eighth of its uninsured patients from being hospitalized, it "potentially" reduced the hospital's uncompensated care by more than $1 million a year.
The hospital's annual savings could be more than $4 million if one-half of the clinic's patients avoided hospitalization. LMH is owned by the city of Lawrence, but it is able to operate from its own income and does not rely on city tax dollars.
"The exact numbers are hard to pin down because there's no way to know who would or would not be hospitalized. Or, maybe they became eligible for Medicaid or Medicare or they somehow became insured," Smith-Campbell said. "But, clearly, Health Care Access appears to be making a difference."
Smith-Campbell, who conducted the study with a grant from nationwide Volunteers in Healthcare group, was a member of Health Care Access' first board of directors in 1988.
Rhea said it's safe to assume that without the clinic's services, between one-eighth to one-half of its patients would be hospitalized, noting that hypertension, diabetes and depression are the clinic's three most common diagnoses.
Health Care Access, 1920 Moodie Road, logs about 3,300 patient visits a year. It sees about 1,000 patients.
Services that cannot be provided by the clinic's staff often are donated by area physicians and Lawrence Memorial Hospital.
"Health Care Access contributes a significant amount of savings to the health care system," said Gene Meyer, president and chief executive officer at LMH.
Each year, the hospital contributes about $450,000 in services :quot; lab work and X-rays, for example :quot; to Health Care Access.
"The latest national study that I've seen said there are 42 million uninsured Americans today," Meyer said. "And that in the next five years, that number is going to reach 60 million. So I think all of us see the need to be open to progressive ideas for controlling health care costs, and Health Care Access is certainly one of those ideas."
Despite the medical community's kudos, Health Care Access expects to end the year with a $20,000 deficit.
Rhea is hoping a Dec. 7 "Holiday in Monte Carlo" fund-raiser at the Marriott Springhill Suites will put the clinic's finances in the black.