Providing improved access to health care became a reality for the University of Houston this week as a new health clinic on the main campus in Third Ward opened its doors to patients amid momentum to begin training primary care physicians next year in a new medical school.
UH has become a medical home for residents in South Central Houston through Lone Star Circle of Care (LSCC), a federally qualified health center (FQHC) based in Georgetown. The partnership aims to improve access to high-quality medical care and behavioral health services for children and adults regardless of insurance status or ability to pay.
The clinic is located in the Health 2 Building, the temporary home of the new UH College of Medicine, and features 12 exam rooms and another 15 for behavioral health services. There’s also an area for blood draws for patients needing lab work.
“I’m excited about the collaboration,” said Stephen J. Spann, M.D., M.B.A., vice president for medical affairs and founding dean of the UH College of Medicine. “Lone Star Circle of Care is a great FQHC organization and we’re fortunate to have them partnering with us. They have a lot of expertise in the operation of federally qualified health centers … and we’re going to offer high-quality services to patients who need care, both in the Third Ward and surrounding communities.”
Lone Star Circle of Care runs clinics in a dozen other Texas cities, primarily in Central Texas. The organization is designated as a federally qualified health center because it’s a community-based, safety-net nonprofit that receives federal funding to provide primary care to patients in underserved communities.
Lindsey Tippit, MHA, chief operations officer for Lone Star Circle of Care, said both organizations share a vision focused on primary care.
“The University of Houston is focused on primary care providers coming out of their program. They have a goal for over 50 percent of their graduates to go into primary care, which is very different than most medical schools,” she said. “And it’s not just primary care for them—it’s focused on underserved populations, and that’s what we do as a federally qualified health center—we serve everyone, we are patient centered and community focused.”
Because FQHCs have different funding mechanisms than traditional medical clinics and receive federal reimbursements from Medicare and Medicaid, Tippit added, they can more easily provide care on a sliding fee scale and to patients without insurance, which extends the reach into underserved communities.
The clinic will help bridge a gap in primary care that exists throughout Texas. Spann cited the state ranking 47th in primary care physicians based on the population.
“By one estimate, if we wanted to reach the national average of primary care physicians to population ratio for our state, we would need 4,600 additional primary care doctors today,” he said. “Even large cities are not immune to this. … Houston is no exception and this community is no exception, so I think we will provide better access to primary care medical services.”
UH and LSCC officials hope the new clinic will serve as a comprehensive health care home to individuals and families who may not currently have access to preventive treatments and regular checkups.
“A primary medical home is very important,” Tippit said. “It’s a one-stop shop. We’re doing wraparound care that takes care of all the needs of a patient through our integrated behavioral health model … and those needs are definitely part of the overall health of our patients.”
Spann said that having both the primary medical care space and the behavioral health space under one organization is incredibly powerful—and, according to experts, provides the best model for high-quality, comprehensive care.
The clinic also will serve as a training ground for medical students and other clinicians who are studying at the University of Houston.
Officials in both organizations also foresee this collaboration supporting mutual strengths—especially regarding research and innovation applied to bedside practice.
“We have hopes and aspirations that, working together, we can develop better ways to take care of patients,” Spann said. “It’s a win-win-win partnership, I would say.”
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