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Editorial: Rutgers Study On ER Treatment Costs in Urban Areas Shows Value of Trenton Health Team

Your grandmother might have reminded you that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

In Trenton, as well as other urban areas, the stakes are considerably higher. A recent Rutgers study found that in Trenton alone, avoidable emergency room visits and hospitalizations cost $40 million over two years.

That’s a staggering amount in a city of such want. When added to the dozen other urban areas the Rutgers researchers studied, it works out to a statewide loss of $284 million in just 2010.

The scenario is distressingly familiar. Those lacking insurance or a doctor ignore a minor health concern or decide to tough out a chronic condition – until they become critical and warrant emergency attention.

Then, after emergency intervention, patients end up back in the hospital because they’re confused by follow-through instructions or unable to fulfill them.

Other patients equate emergency room treatment with a visit to a primary care doctor or clinic. They’re heedless of the cost.

The bottom line, the study found, is that not enough had been done to keep the state’s poorest residents healthy and out of the hospital from 2008 to 2010.

At least in Trenton, future assessments will yield better results following the concerted effort of the Trenton Health Team. Since formation of the partnership among city officials, St. Francis Medical Center, Capital Health System, Henry J. Austin Health Centers and a number of civic and charitable organizations, the number of unnecessary emergency room visits and hospitalizations is down by about half.

While the team has succeeded in improving health outcomes as well as reducing costs in Trenton, there are circumstances that remain beyond its control. Dr. Ruth Perry, executive director of the Trenton Health Team, calls them the social barriers to a healthier city.

Many patients in the city lack transportation or insurance.

“We need increased opportunities for economic development, better education and increased opportunities for housing,” says Perry. “These issues really need to be addressed if we’re going to rise to the top of these types of rankings.”

It’s a tall order, but well worth striving for.

As the Trenton Health Team has demonstrated, a willingness to involve an array of agencies, even some of those formerly at odds, to address an overarching problem can yield demonstrable results in just a short time.

Even the most brilliant doctor and cutting-edge technology won’t save a patient who can’t afford medication or lives in a leaky tent.

About the Trenton Health Team
Trenton Health Team (THT) is an alliance of the city’s major providers of healthcare services including Capital Health, St. Francis Medical Center, Henry J. Austin Health Center and the city’s Health Department. In collaboration with residents and the city’s active social services network, THT is developing an integrated healthcare delivery system to transform the city’s fragmented primary care system and restore health to the city. THT aims to make Trenton the healthiest city in the state. Support for the Trenton Health Team was provided in part by a grant from The Nicholson Foundation. For more information, visit