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Care with compassion

April 04, 2005|by JULIE E. GREENE

julieg@herald-mail.com

Walnut Street Community Health Center in Hagerstown serves anyone and doesn't stop with physical health problems, said Dr. Laura B. Tanyi-Asher, medical director.

Medical personnel also talk to patients about how to prevent health problems and help them find shelter and food, if needed, Tanyi-Asher said.

"We consider family medicine a specialty. We strive to understand not just the person, but what they go through on a daily basis," said Dr. Barbara Haeckler, one of four doctors on staff.

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The health center is, according to its mission statement, "committed to ensuring a healthy community by providing affordable, accessible and compassionate health care to individuals and families of all ages, races and economic backgrounds."

While serving the uninsured is a big part of that, Tanyi-Asher said the health center is for everyone, including the insured.

Tanyi-Asher said all patients can profit from the center's holistic approach.

"We see every patient as extremely important," she said.

A patient might come in for one problem, such as a sore throat, but also get counsel on another problem, such as obeseity, said health center board member Earl Stoner.

Stoner is one of the board members who represents its consumers. The 36-year-old Hagerstown resident said he goes to the center for medical attention even though he, as a state employee, is insured.

"They make people really feel accepted, whether they have insurance or not," Stoner said. Patients also feel respected, he said.

"At Walnut Street, they go the extra mile to learn a little bit about you, to answer your questions," he said.

Community health centers were born in the '60s because, nationally, hospitals didn't cater to and weren't accessible to all urban neighborhoods, Tanyi-Asher said.

Community health centers bridged those needs and even tailored their care to the local community's needs, Tanyi-Asher said.

Walnut Street Community Health Center was founded in 1994 on Potomac Street, she said. In December 1999, the health center moved into the Horace W. Murphy Community Health Center at 24 N. Walnut St.

For many years the health center was part of the Washington County Health System.

As of July 1, 2003, the health center is a federally qualified health center, Executive Director Kim Murdaugh said.

That means the health center began getting federal funds and no longer is part of the Washington County Health System, although it does get funding from the health system, Murdaugh said.

Health center officials are striving toward no longer needing money from the health system, Murdaugh and Tanyi-Asher said. Officials are working to raise more money through fund-raisers and grants, Murdaugh said.

The health center's budget this fiscal year is $2.3 million, Murdaugh said.

The change in status also means greater accountability. Federal mandates require the health center to show it is making progress to meet its goals, Murdaugh said. The center's goals are tackling health issues that have high incidences in Washington County and targeting specific segments of the population, Tanyi-Asher said.

The health issues are:

· Heart disease.

· Hypertension or high blood pressure.

· Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease such as tobacco-related illnesses, lung diseases and chronic asthma problems.

· Obesity.

· Diabetes.

Many people with diabetes and other chronic illnesses don't have the illness controlled well, said Dr. Martha Riggle. The doctors want to optimize health care for these people who probably haven't seen a doctor regularly, she said. This improves the patients' quality of life.

Health center staff meet quarterly to see how they are doing in meeting their goals, Tanyi-Asher said.

Take diabetes.

In a recent one-year period in Washington County, the death rate from diabetes was 22 people of 100,000, Murdaugh said. That compares with 17 per 100,000 in Maryland and 14 per 100,000 nationally.

To track progress, diabetes patients undergo a blood test to see how well the patient is controlling blood-sugar levels.

Not all of the goals deal with specific illnesses.

Targeted populations are:

· Women. While the health center doesn't do obstetrics or gynecology, it places a strong emphasis on preventive care.

The doctors educate women on the importance of seeing themselves as more than reproductive organs, Haeckler said. They need to do more than take care of their breast exam and gynecological needs, Haeckler said. This includes stopping smoking and taking care of their heart.

Many local women of child-bearing age are stressed with issues such as parenting, domestic violence and dealing with unemployed spouses, Tanyi-Asher said.

· Teenagers. This includes the county's high rate of teen pregnancy, Tanyi-Asher said.

In general, teenagers are becoming independent and might need a neutral party with whom to talk about their health issues, Tanyi-Asher said.

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