Written by Sandi Draper
Insured people usually turn to their family doctor for routine care and only consider a trip to the emergency room if it is after hours and/or a true emergency. But the emergency room is often where uninsured and underinsured patients turn when they are ill and do not have a regular doctor, or “medical home,” according to William A. Conrad, MD, chief of staff at Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Center Torrance and former chairman of the center’s emergency department.
“My goal is to treat any patient in an emergency,” Dr. Conrad says. “Regardless of income, race, gender identity or culture, in a true emergency you are my prized patient.” But, he explains, when patients who aren’t in a medical crisis seek care at an emergency room, they may jeopardize the staff’s ability to care for patients in dire need, such as a child in respiratory distress.
To help patients find an affordable medical home, Providence Little Company of Mary has partnered with the PMI Vasek Polak Health Clinic in Hawthorne, which was named for a Czech-born Los Angeles car dealer, race car driver and overall car aficionado. Polak died as a result of a car crash on a German autobahn in 1997, and a decade later, his family endowed the clinic in his memory and set up funding for its first few years. Since its inception the clinic has operated under the Providence Medical Institute umbrella. The “medical home” is a model of care that is patient-centered, comprehensive, team-based, coordinated, accessible, and focused on quality and safety. This is exactly what the Vasek Polak Health Clinic provides.
“The clinic is committed to providing access to quality health care services for poor and vulnerable populations.”
Through Providence’s Community Health Department, a team of community health workers is integrated in the emergency department and works alongside the emergency room staff to monitor, track and coordinate referrals of patients who need follow-up care after being discharged from the emergency department or medical center and have no medical home. The goal is to ensure that patients referred to the clinic avoid having to utilize the emergency department for their routine care.
“We won’t deny care for non-emergencies,” Dr. Conrad says. “What we will do is when a patient comes through the emergency room, we ask if they have a medical home. If they don’t, then after the patient is evaluated, we connect them to the team of community health workers to help find a better pathway for ongoing care. Subsequently, we get thank-you notes from patients who are now able to connect with a group of providers that looks after them personally, and not just an emergency physician who is focused on the immediate issue, but not the follow-up care.”
Clinic staff work hard to connect with patients, so they feel they have a safe and secure place for health care.
“Efforts are made to reach out and try to connect with every patient who gets referred to us from the ER,” says Juan Mendez, practice manager of the PMI Vasek Polak Health Clinic and manager of Providence’s community health department in the South Bay.
Vasek Polak Health Clinic is an alternative to emergency room care for primary and urgent care services,” Mendez says. “As an extension of our medical centers, the clinic is committed to providing access to quality health care services for poor and vulnerable populations.”
The clinic is staffed five days a week by a full-time physician (the medical director), a full-time nurse practitioner and a part-time physician. In addition to the traditional primary care services, Vasek Polak Health Clinic offers community and social support services, including behavioral health services, health insurance enrollment assistance, health education and coordination of community resource referrals.
“Patients may be uninsured but eligible for Medi-Cal,” Mendez says. “During their visit to the emergency department, we help many patients enroll in the Hospital Presumptive Eligibility Program (HPE). The HPE program provides immediate access to temporary Medi-Cal (30 days) which covers patient’s medical expenses during their ER visit. It also provides an opportunity for patients to enroll in a permanent full-scope Medi-Cal or other health plan coverage. Our teams of community health workers housed both in the emergency department and the PMI Vasek Polak Health Clinic do an incredible job providing health insurance navigation and assistance to every patient we come in contact with, regardless of their race or immigration status.”
The clinic operates from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. Office visits (in-person) for patients without insurance are $50, which includes follow-up visits for lab results and acute medical services. X-Rays are $30; lab fees are $10. Telehealth visits are available as well. Appointments are required, but the clinic tries to accommodate same-day visits when possible. Most appointments can be scheduled within a week. The clinic also offers free ongoing health education classes for patients with chronic conditions such as diabetes.
“Working in a place like Vasek Polak Clinic presents a unique set of challenges,” Mendez says. “We treat patients as a whole person, not as a set of symptoms. We hold the patient’s hand and walk them through the process. The biggest thing our staff has is a heart in the right place with the passion to do this work every day.”
To learn more about the Vasek Polak Health Clinic please visit providence.org/locations/vasek-polak-health-clinic or call 310-355-0100.
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