Getting ahead of a health concern is often the best way of treating it.
For patients, this means seeing a primary care doctor. However, access isn’t always easy.
To help address a “primary care desert,” Ascension St. Joseph Hospital hired four new primary care physicians this year, Chief Administrative Officer Kevin Kluesner said.
St. Joe’s, 5000 W. Chambers St., is the main hospital serving predominantly Black neighborhoods outside the care zones of Aurora Sinai Medical Center and Froedtert Hospital.
A lack of primary care can result from a number of factors, including people without health insurance and lack of available options in certain areas of the city.
Kluesner said about 55% of St. Joseph patients are covered by Medicaid, and an additional 5% have no insurance. St. Joe’s allows access to primary care for people without insurance and offers financial plans for them.
Kluesner said the new providers will help address health disparities in the community St. Joe’s serves. These disparities include infant mortality and chronic diseases.
The patients at St. Joe’s “have their first heart attack and their first stroke 20 years before the patients just a few miles away in the suburbs,” he said.
The importance of primary care
Masum Mukit, a family physician who did his residencies in Detroit and Atlanta and is new to St. Joe’s, described family medicine as health care “from the cradle to the grave.”
Family medicine, a form of primary care, can also be a reference point to other areas of medicine.
“Your primary care provider is going to stay on top of all your preventive health needs as well,” Mukit said. “I think it’s really important to help prevent diseases, even more than treating them. If I could prevent that disease in the first place, I think I’ve done my job really well.”
Without primary care, Mukit said, patients are more likely to have undiagnosed conditions that will decrease their quality of life.
New midwifery clinic
In addition to hiring more primary care physicians, St. Joe’s opened a new midwifery clinic in October.
Its staff has delivered 25 babies this year, but their services go beyond helping bring babies into the world.
Nurse midwives can provide routine obstetric and gynecologic, or OB-GYN, primary care to women. They also can relay information on ovulation, menstruation, pregnancy and general health for women.
Gretchen McCool, a certified nurse midwife at the clinic, likens her role to being a “lifeguard at a swimming pool.”
“Our approach to really all of women’s health care is that these are normal experiences that women are going through,” McCool said.
Nate Gilliam, lead organizer for Wisconsin Federation of Nurses & Health Professionals and a member of the St. Joe’s Accountability Coalition, said although he is encouraged by the hospital’s recent efforts, he wants to see even more investment.
“I think they can still do a lot more with their power and resources,” Gilliam said.