AHA Tower Clinic Open to Patients | News, sports, jobs

Dr. Zane Gates (left) and Altoona Housing Authority Deputy Director Brad Kanuch pose at the new clinic for tower residents opened through a partnership between Gloria Gates CARE and the housing authority. Mirror photo by William Kibler

Two years after it was first discussed, a clinic providing enhanced primary care to Medicaid recipients will begin accepting patients today at the Altoona Housing Authority’s Green Avenue Tower, one of two downtown towers for the authority for seniors and the disabled.

Based on a partnership between Gloria Gates CARE and the Housing Authority, the project aims to reduce the friction that keeps low-income seniors from getting the health care they need, said Zane Gates, co-founder of Gloria Gates CARE, who spoke to the Spiegel Wednesday.

That friction includes transportation issues for people who don’t own cars and struggle to be accepted into primary care practices because low Medicaid reimbursements for doctors make it unaffordable for those practices to take on too many such patients, Gates said.

Relieving that friction for eligible participants — Medicaid recipients living in the Green Avenue or 11th Street towers — is not only a function of the new outreach environment, as residents can easily walk to the clinic, but also of the operating principles of Gloria Gates CARE, including helping patients address barriers to healthy living, such as food insecurity and medication management.

“People in these situations need a lot more care,” Gates said as he sat in the office of the new clinic, a converted first-floor space that was originally an apartment and later the office of a nonprofit organization. “An office visit of more than 15 minutes.”

Efforts by Gloria Gates CARE staff can take the form of follow-up visits to ensure patients understand the instructions given at their last visit, Gates said.

That “more” also includes ongoing care for the chronic diseases that affect many and attention to the “social determinants of health” that many struggle with, Gates said. “(Those) other things are just as important,” he said.

Social determinants of health include educational background, financial literacy and employment history.

One of the biggest is housing, Gates said.

That is covered in the case of his new outreach patients, he said.

Another is financial resources.

The average lifespan for poor people in western Pennsylvania is 67 years for blacks and 70 years for whites, Gates said.

The average lifespan of middle-class people is 78 years, he said.

For rich people it’s 83, he said.

The new partnership with Gloria Gates CARE is an opportunity to provide more resources to tower residents than just housing, said authority Executive Director Cheryl Johns.

“I’ve never just been a real director,” Johns said.

The tower clinic will be the first outreach for Gloria Gates CARE, which is itself a new membership-based, direct primary care organization founded by Gates and other investors to serve Medicaid patients.

It is named after Gates’ mother, who raised Gates in the Evergreen Manors housing project in Eldorado.

The organization’s main location is Puritan Park, on the 2500 block of Ninth Avenue, near the Grande Palazzo.

In addition to regular primary care, Gloria Gates CARE offers its own pharmacist, its own social worker and its own dietician; screening for drug and alcohol problems and mental health problems; laboratory services, including blood tests; a formulation of basic medicines; virtual visits with specialists; X-ray, MRI and CAT scan services; and heart and lung function tests, according to Val Mignogna, senior vice president for clinical operations, who previously spoke to the Mirror.

The Green Avenue Tower outreach will be open on Thursdays from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., with a nurse practitioner and medical assistant available.

Residents of the tower were able to register at the end of last week.

According to Gates, the authority is providing the clinic space for free.

Health insurance plans through UPMC and Geisinger that contract with the state to administer Medicaid money will pay Gloria Gates CARE fixed amounts per patient per month, in a “capitation” system, Gates said.

He declined to disclose the amount of the payments.

The capitation system makes it possible to eliminate many billing and administrative costs, keeping expenses low, officials previously said.

It is in the interest of these companies’ healthcare providers that these patients stay healthy, as the current capacity of the healthcare system is under strain, Gates said.

The Green Avenue Tower outreach could be a model of “whole person care” for other low-income housing projects, according to Gates.

There could be marketing efforts within the towers’ population to inform residents of the clinic’s capabilities, although the most effective way to secure patients will be word of mouth, Deputy Executive Director Brad Kanuch predicted.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 814-949-7038.

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