How an innovative primary care solution thwarted crisis

Response to Valley-Wide closure helped thousands of patients

The response to fill a gap in-health care created when a provider closed its doors has won national recognition.

La Plata County Senior Services and the San Juan Basin Health Department received the Innovations in Human Services Award from the National Association of County Human Services Administrators. Two counties were recognized nationally.

The La Plata County health-care crisis started in June 2007 when Valley-Wide Health Systems closed its clinic in Durango, leaving thousands of patients without a doctor.

Sheila Casey, director of senior services in the county, won a $250,000 grant from the Colorado Trust Foundation to pay for two half-time nurses.

The nurses, Tracy Davis and Brenda Isgar, assessed the health needs of the rural elderly and linked them to providers of medical care, home-chore services, transportation and home-delivered meals.

The grant covered the service of Davis and Isgar for four years. Anyone older than 60 qualified for help.

“We have so many seniors that live alone in remote areas,” Davis said. “They can’t drive for a number of reasons – they have Alzheimers, don’t hear or see well, are on oxygen, aren’t ambulatory or simply don’t drive.”

Casey said more than 3,000 seniors were the beneficiaries of 15,000 referrals to help organizations.

“We’re proud of the work and happy for the opportunity to partner with other agencies,” said Joe Theine on Monday, executive director of the health department.

A successor to the nurse outreach has emerged in the Nurse Navigator program through the San Juan Basin Health Department. The program provides some care for people with multiple chronic illnesses.

“It’s not easy to work with incremental funding,” Theine said. “But we have a community-care team that is improving the quality of life for seniors.”

Davis is a nurse navigator, filling a part-time position to help senior citizens.

The program is funded by Pediatric Partners of the Southwest, Mercy Regional Medical Center, La Plata Human Services and Rocky Mountain Health Plan.

The award from the National Association of County Human Services Administrators, now in its 12th year, was presented recently at a meeting of the county commissioners.

National Association of County Human Services Administrators honors counties that “distinguish themselves in promoting and strengthening networks of county and community human services that protect children, families and the elderly and that support self-sufficiency of disadvantaged populations,” the organization says.

Wilson County in North Carolina was the other recipient for a program to keep teenage parents in school.

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