Local agencies awarded more than $1.3M in health funds

Well over a dozen health and human services-related agencies in Hood River and Wasco counties were recently awarded more than $1.3 million in state funds for programs designed to make healthcare for vulnerable populations more efficient and more cost-effective.

The money came from Oregon’s health transformation initiative and is managed by the Columbia Gorge Coordinated Care Organization: an umbrella organization that administers healthcare for the Oregon Health Plan — Oregon’s Medicaid program — and includes nearly every health care provider in the region.

The funds are going to a variety of organizations and programs that are looking to innovate the way healthcare is administered in Oregon and to do so on a more local level, according to a message on the Oregon Health Authority’s website.

“Today, services such as mental and physical health care are usually offered separately, in fragmented and uncoordinated ways, so that members have gaps in their care,” it says. “Providers are paid for treating illness, not for preventing it. Members with chronic conditions don’t get services that will keep them healthy and help them avoid unnecessary hospitalizations or emergency care.”

The type of programs that are supported by these funds vary widely, but all are geared toward improving health in vulnerable populations. One program will help secure the health information exchanges used by Providence Hood River Memorial Hospital and the Hood River County Health Department. Another will fund a prescription-based meal delivery program for post-op patients in the Meals on Wheels program. Another will create a local training center coordinated by The Next Door for community health workers, outreach workers, and case managers that will help patients, especially ones with chronic illnesses, stay healthier. Several pilot programs designed to help improve the integration of primary care and mental health services as well as detailed medication review for patients with complex medication regimens will also be funded, in addition to several other programs.

Karen Joplin, chair of the Columbia Gorge Health Council, said the health transformation initiative stresses the importance of case management — to better understand patients and their obstacles to achieving a healthy lifestyle, whether it be lack of education, an unhealthy home, or poor medication management. Case workers assigned to patients will be involved in understanding their health on a more holistic level.

“The hope is that we will save money because we will increase the health of the community so they will utilize services less,” she explained.

CGHC, along with PacificSource Community Solutions — the nonprofit arm of the PacificSource health insurance company — received many ideas for program funding from local health and human service agencies. Joplin said the total proposals came in at $3.1 million, so CGHC was responsible for narrowing down the programs that would receive the $1.3 million in funding allocated to the two counties by the state.

In addition to supporting these programs, Joplin said the funding would also create new jobs, although she noted most of the programs lasted 12 to 18 months.

The CCO will be judged by metrics set by the state at how effective these programs are managed. If the state deems they are effective, the region could get rewarded with additional funding.

So far, Joplin said, the programs appear to be doing their job.

“We’re seeing improvements already,” she said, “but there’s still a ways to go.

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