The Louisiana Department of Health – Bureau of Primary Care and Rural Health held a news conference in Alexandria today to announce the receipt of a three-year grant in the amount of $750,000 from The Rapides Foundation.  The funded project, called Health Systems Development for Central Louisiana, aims to increase primary health care services, the number of primary care health professionals, the number of patients served and efficiencies within existing primary care service systems.

The Bureau of Primary Care and Rural Health (Bureau) developed the project as a partnership with The Rapides Foundation, combining the resources and technical expertise of each organization to provide communities with targeted assistance in their efforts to develop, enhance or expand local access for health professional shortage areas in central Louisiana.  An estimated 30,000 underserved residents in The Rapides Foundation’s nine-parish service area will have access to health care through the new primary care delivery sites developed over the next three years.

The development of new primary health care services and the expansion of the existing primary health care system were identified as a major focus of Gov. Kathleen Blanco’s health care reform initiative.  The governor convened a panel of national experts for a Health Summit in March 2004.  The panel, as well as health care providers and consumers from across the state, spoke about the need to reform Louisiana’s health care system so that residents, especially those who are uninsured, have access to quality, community-based primary health care services.

“The funding provided from The Rapides Foundation gives LDH the opportunity to develop primary health care services for an additional 30,000 Louisiana residents,” said LDH Secretary Dr. Fred Cerise.  “It is my hope that this program and the services developed over the next three years will serve as a model for reforming the state’s primary health care delivery system as called for by Gov. Blanco.” 

The Rapides Foundation, located in Alexandria, serves a nine-parish service area, which includes Allen, Avoyelles, Catahoula, Grant, LaSalle, Natchitoches, Rapides, Vernon and Winn parishes.  All or part of each of the nine parishes is federally designated as a health professional shortage area, indicating that the physician-to-population ratio in the area is below federal standard of one physician to every 3,000 residents.  In addition to physician shortages, 22 percent of the region’s population (345,663) is at or below 100 percent of the federal poverty level, 22.4 percent of area residents are eligible for Medicaid and 21 percent are uninsured.  

The Bureau has determined that in order to serve the general, low-income and Medicaid populations of The Rapides Foundation’s service area, 20 full-time, primary care physicians or 10 new primary care practices with two physicians each serving 1,500 patients are needed.  Developing these practices and recruiting additional physicians will have a significant impact on the availability of comprehensive, effective and sustainable local primary care services.

In order to meet the program goals, the Bureau will develop new primary health care services, including provider-based and freestanding rural health clinics and new federally qualified health center sites.   In addition, the Bureau will work to expand the capacity of the region’s existing primary care practices, out patient clinics, public health units and school-based health centers.  The Bureau also will focus on integrating dental health and mental health services, prescription assistance programs and transportation services with primary care expansion efforts.

To facilitate the development and expansion of primary care services, the Bureau will hire one full-time community developer, one full-time practice management specialist and one part-time billing and coding specialist to serve exclusively in the nine parishes supported by The Rapides Foundation.

The community developer will work with community leaders to assess and plan for the primary care needs in each of the nine parishes and will serve as a coordinator for primary care development projects by providing group facilitation, conducting community-needs assessments, strategic planning and health service market analyses and making appropriate referrals to state and federal agencies.

The practice management specialist and the billing and coding specialist will work as a team, assisting new and existing primary care practices to maximize revenue, service capacity, patient flow marketing, customer relations and operational efficiency.  Through the work of this practice management team, primary care practices in the area will experience improvements in cash flow, provider productivity, patient satisfaction and data collection and management.

A national advisory panel will provide technical assistance and support for the duration of the project.  Capital Link of Boston, the Community Clinics Initiative of San Francisco, the Primary Care Development Corporation of New York and Michael Beachler, with Pennsylvania State University and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, will provide their expertise and serve as mentors over the three-year grant period.