Trenton given clean bill of health, meets state standards
For the first time in at least a decade, the Trenton Health Department has gotten a clean bill of health, complying with all state requirements, and city officials credit a cooperative effort.
The city joined with local hospitals, health care organizations and community groups in the Trenton Health Team in an effort to provide better services to residents despite repeated budget cuts. The result is the department now meets state standards “in all areas where we have been deficient,” said James Brownlee, the city’s health officer and director of health and human services.
“Now we are not alone,” Brownlee said, citing the backing of partners in the Trenton Health Team, including Capital Health, St. Francis Medical Center, and the Henry J. Austin Health Center, the city’s only federally-qualified health center, and community organizations.
Even in better economic times, access to adequate health care has been a problem in a city with many poor and uninsured residents. Instead of receiving regular care that could avoid or eliminate problems, many residents have sought help only at emergency rooms. That has driven up costs, while often leaving underlying health problems untreated, according to health officials.
“We are working together with the city to provide services,” said Dr. Ruth Perry, executive director of the health team. “We believe this can be a model for the nation. We are reducing costs, improving health outcomes, and making a difference in people’s lives.”
Brownlee offered some examples of how the collaborative effort works. The city is required to provide tuberculosis testing and treatment, while the health team received a grant from Mercer County to provide tuberculosis services countywide. Working together led to the hiring of a nursing case manager at the health clinic, where health team doctors treat patients at no cost to the city.
Health services for pregnant women, new mothers, infants and preschool children has been another area of critical concerned. Uninsured women often do not receive adequate care and guidance before or after giving birth, causing or compounding health issues for their children. The health team emphasizes providing proper care and information, with particular emphasis on reaching poor and uninsured families. The city’s nursing staff provides home visits, and now works closely with the city’s two hospitals and federally qualified health clinic to make sure the families receive proper care.
Despite a stream of budget cuts, including 24 percent last year, the health department has done a good job in maintaining some services, according to Brownlee, a local resident who previously worked 31 years at the state department of health and senior services, retiring as an assistant commissioner. But the cuts took their toll on free clinics and services for diabetes and cancer patients, he said. Meanwhile, a lack of collaboration among providers led to overlaps in other areas, he said.
The health team approach has allowed the restoration of those services, and the city plans to open clinics for adult and pediatric care next year, according to Brownlee.
“We were duplicating services; now we are working together,” he said.
Perry said team members meet regularly to examine ways they can support each other. At a time when many municipalities are struggling financially, she said the approach could prompt other communities to try innovative health-care programs.
“We believe this can be a model for the nation,” she said. “We are reducing costs, improving health outcomes, and making a difference in people’s lives.”
Aware of the “revolving door” system of emergency care, the health team found instances of city residents making dozens, even hundreds of emergency room visits in a year. Not only is this expensive, it often lacks follow-up care and fails to address other issues, such as homelessness, addiction or mental illness, according to the officials.
The team’s community organizations, including the Rescue Mission of Trenton and Catholic Charities, are diving into these problems, attempting to help patients with non-medical needs. The goal is to create a “medical home” to work with patients on everything affecting their health.
“Our aim is to work with the Trenton Health Team to keep people well and out of the hospital,” Brownlee said.
The Trenton Health Team credits generous support from The Nicholson Foundation, corporate partners and other foundations. For more information, visit www.trentonhealthteam.org.
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 www.trentonhealthteam.org.