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Niagara Falls Memorial dedicates The Niagara Wellness Connection Center

by jmaloni

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Fri, Jan 31st 2014 06:15 pm

Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center inaugurated a revolutionary new coordinated care program Thursday that will integrate behavioral health, primary care, wellness services, and community and social support services under one roof.

Named the Niagara Wellness Connection Center, the outpatient program will be housed in a newly constructed, $1.98 million facility on the sixth floor of Memorial's Schoellkopf Building (S-6). It will enhance accessibility, improve patient outcomes and reduce the cost of care by reducing emergency room visits and hospital admissions.

"The Niagara Wellness Connection Center will afford patients convenient access to primary care, behavioral health treatment, addiction screening, health and wellness education, fitness activities, community support services and financial and health insurance counseling - all under one roof," said Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Sheila K. Kee.

"This integrated, patient-centered care model, which is new to Western New York, will improve patient outcomes, elevate the health status of our community, and greatly reduce the cost of care by significantly reducing the number of emergency room visits and hospital admissions for participating patients," she added.

The center will address a significant need. The Synthesis Project, an initiative of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, has found that more than 68 percent of adults diagnosed with a mental disorder also have a co-occurring medical disorder.

People with serious mental illnesses are at risk of premature death, largely due to complications from untreated, preventable chronic illnesses such as obesity, hypertension, diabetes and cardiovascular disease, which are aggravated by limited health choices associated with poverty, including poor nutrition, lack of exercise and smoking, according to the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Memorial President and CEO Joseph A. Ruffolo said the Niagara Wellness Connection Center is designed to eliminate that treatment gap and prevent those disparities.

"Extremely important to the success of this model will be the educational opportunities, physical fitness activities and he support services we will make available right in the Wellness Connection Center," Ruffolo said.

"We'll be teaching skills clients can use every day in subjects such as nutrition and medication self-management. The center also will have service kiosks staffed by community organizations to help patients address such needs as housing, transportation, nutrition and health insurance," he added. "To encourage usage of our activities and services, we will be introducing new therapeutic techniques such as motivational therapy - instilling inspiration for clients to take charge of their own health."

Hak J. Ko, M.D., Memorial's medical director for behavioral health services, said he applauds the medical center's administration for its foresight in creating the center.

"It makes my job easier," Ko said. "The chronically mentally ill tend to have more problems with physical health, substance abuse and social issues. Now they will be able to get all these services in one location. As a psychiatrist, it will allow me to provide better coordination of care for the patients we are serving."

Construction of the Niagara Wellness Connection Center was funded by a $1.98 million HEAL 21 grant from the New York State Department of Health. Operations will be supported by an additional $795,000 state Department of Health grant and a $70,000 Community and Member Health Improvement grant from Univera Healthcare.

The center replaces an outdated outpatient mental health clinic that was located on the medical center's sixth floor. The space had not been updated for decades and was no longer adequate to provide effective, therapeutic care.

"Our staff is very excited about the opportunity to work in a brand-new, aesthetically pleasing therapeutic setting that will promote successful therapy," said Memorial Vice President Sanjay Chadha. "But, they're even more enthused about the care we will be providing there."

The Niagara Wellness Connection Center is the third in a series of grant-funded, cost-saving initiatives Memorial Medical Center has launched to better serve behavioral health patients.

The first was the ED Care Coordination project, which deploys social workers in the emergency department to provide crisis intervention and care management services. These care coordinators link individuals to community-based services such as housing, food, clothing, outpatient mental health and addiction treatment, thereby avoiding a hospital admission.

Prior to that initiative, 70 percent of all behavioral health clients were admitted to inpatient behavioral health units. During the first year of the project, 775 individuals were served with only 34 percent admitted to the hospital. As a result, Niagara Falls Memorial has saved Medicaid, Medicare and private health plans $1.2 million over the past 12 months.

The second initiative is called the short stay intensive case management program, in which persons with certain types of behavioral health conditions receive very intensive case management services from the moment they are admitted to the hospital.

During their stay, these patients are connected to community-based services and oftentimes reconnected to their family and friends. The high-level social work performed for these individuals has reduced the length of hospital stays from an average of 7.8 days for the overall inpatient psychiatric population to 2.3 days for intensive case management patients.

In addition to substantially reducing the length of stays, the program has reduced the rate of hospital readmissions to 6 percent compared to an overall rate of 23 percent. The recorded savings from shorter hospital stays and fewer hospital admissions totaled $1.2 million over the previous 12 months.

"All told, the ED Care Coordination Project and the short stay intensive case management initiatives have saved Medicaid, Medicare and regional health plans $2.4 million," Kee said. "These savings are noteworthy, and Memorial is proud to have produced them."

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