As it looks for ways to expand the number of specialist physicians in the Sacramento area, UC Davis Health has begun integrating a group of these medical experts into an Oak Park community health center operated by WellSpace Health, leaders of the two companies announced Friday.
“We measure the amount of time it takes to get an appointment for a Medi-Cal patient versus a Medicare patient versus a commercial patient, and they are identical,” said Dr. David Lubarsky, CEO of UC Davis Health. “We do not discriminate in any way, shape or form in providing our subspecialty services. What is the problem that we need to expand our services.”
Still, Lubarsky said that’s a challenge, because Medi-Cal rates pay so little that many specialists can’t afford to set up a practice in an area where they can service these patient concentrations. Since WellSpace and other similar networks of community health centers receive federal funding to care for medically underserved areas or residents, Lubarsky said, it makes sense to form an alliance with them.
“This is why this partnership…is so important,” Lubarsky said. “As we expand our services and have a basis that is 100% Medi-Cal or uninsured, normally this practice wouldn’t be able to stay in business, but because of the structures that the federal government has to support these types of community clinics and the fact that we can… expand That to include subspecialists and basically pay them a living wage for Medi-Cal seeing only and uninsured patients, we can develop this program to meet the needs of Medi-Cal residents.”
WellSpace CEO Jonathan Porteous said the new partnership will increase access to specialty services that are in high demand among Medi-Cal enrollees and the uninsured. For years, Medi-Cal patients have complained that they can’t find a specialist who will accept the government-funded insurance plan.
They found there were two issues, Porteous said: There are already many Medi-Cal patients who need to see specialists, but at the same time, not all of those patients actually need to be treated by a specialist.
Over the past 18 months, WellSpace leaders and UC Davis have worked closely to create a referral network they’ve called Specialty Connect, which will assess patient needs and coordinate specialty referrals not only for Wellspace’s network of 30 community health centers but also for six. Other local health center operators.
The other six are Elica Health; Health and Life Organization, or HALO; one community health, peach tree health; Sacramento County Primary Care Clinic; and Sacramento Native American Health Center, or SNAHC. All are known as Federally Qualified Health Centers because they receive funding from federal agencies to provide primary care to Medi-Cal and uninsured patients.
When the WellSpace and UCD team conceived the idea of the specialist liaison, they knew they would have to obtain approval from the US Department of Health and Human Services to ensure that the specialists would receive federal compensation. It has been a critical component of the work the two organizations have done over the past 18 months.
As WellSpace and UCD add professionals in other areas of medicine, Porteus said, they will have to go through a full process of certification and certification.
On Friday, WellSpace and UCD Health celebrated their success with an event marking the addition of their first specialist physician, Dr. Thomas Appel. Set up shop Jan. 6 at the spacious WellSpace Clinic in the Oak Park Community Center complex at 3415 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
Abel, a board-certified internist in rheumatology, focuses on the diagnosis and treatment of diseases affecting muscles, bones, joints, ligaments, and tendons. These diseases can cause pain, swelling, stiffness and, in some cases, joint deformities.
Historically, rheumatology has been a high-need specialty in Sacramento that often requires long waiting times and long travel for care, Porteous said, but the new partnership should get started.
At the Oak Park clinic, the Porteus team already had seven medical exam rooms, a mammogram room, and nine dental rooms, but they moved staff to open up to 25 additional exam rooms to accommodate Abel and other specialists, other types of providers, and potential new medical equipment as they Determine what upcoming service providers need to do their job.
There are a number of subspecialists out there who are really eager to do community-level work, Lubarsky said, and he and his team have been working with smaller health care operators in rural and urban areas to identify where they can integrate these professionals.
“We think that’s another really cool role for UC Davis to play, to say, ‘Well, yeah, you’re coming to join UC Davis, but you can also do community work,'” he said. And it costs us nothing to use our reputation to improve the level of people we can recruit in this community.”