The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

March 11, 2014

A community makes a difference in providing effective health care


“I just wish I had gone to the doctor sooner,” he said.

Americans who lack health coverage skip needed medical visits, receive poorer-quality care and suffer more from illness than those with insurance, repeated studies have shown.

Lack of insurance “is really the No. 1 driver of our health care challenges,” said Scott Wester, chief executive of Baton Rouge’s largest hospital system, Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center, which last year took over the city’s charity health system.

The St. Paul clinic also faces challenges as a growing number of immigrants from East Africa and Southeast Asia seek care there. Four in 10 patients speak little or no English. Many can’t afford medical care.

But the clinic has several key advantages over its counterpart to the south. State leaders of both parties have worked to ensure the vast majority of Minnesota residents have health coverage, which makes it easier for the clinic to find specialists who are willing to see its patients.

A strong collaborative spirit in the state also has yielded partnerships among clinics, doctors and hospitals, as well as businesses and government leaders.

Those kinds of partnerships, a hallmark of many of the nation’s healthiest places, are rarer in communities where civic traditions are weaker, particularly those with a history of segregation. Doctors and nurses at the Baton Rouge clinic describe what they call a “treat and street” mentality at some medical facilities that do just enough for poor patients to avoid running afoul of a federal law that prohibits turning away the sick.

At the Minnesota clinic, doctors and nurses often have a reassuring message for patients: “We’ll get you set up.”

When Malvin Wade, 52, a former cook with a history of heart problems, came in recently after chest pain, a nurse arranged a follow-up appointment with a cardiologist. Gregory Blakey, 11, who had been to the emergency room three times with asthma attacks, got an appointment with a pulmonologist.

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