In August 2003, what began as an academic idea to expand health services to the working poor in Tulsa has evolved into an affair of the heart for an entire community. Through an innovative campus–community partnership, the University of Oklahoma in Tulsa is expanding health care services to northeast Oklahoma 's indigent and uninsured through a new health services delivery collaborative: OU Community Health (formerly known as Bedlam Alliance for Community Health). This unique model combines private financial support, existing facilities, focused community-wide volunteerism, and compassion for the historically underserved to increase access to basic and specialty health services, alleviate pressure on area hospital emergency rooms, and improve the overall health of the Tulsa community by encouraging a new mindset for the importance of life-long volunteerism.
The OU School of Community Medicine in Tulsa has taken the lead in finding, coordinating and supporting the services of nearly 200 volunteer physicians who now staff free-to-patients after-hours clinics focused on providing primary health care to the working poor and uninsured.
Community Health Provides:
• Cost-Efficient Access to Care Improves Health Status. It was expected that this project would provide the indigent, working poor and uninsured with the primary and specialty health care they need in a cost-effective manner. Our objective was to identify, through our collaborating partners, community social service agencies and word of mouth, those individuals who have had difficulty accessing health care and provide them with a medical home – free of charge.
• Improvements in Access to Care Improves Community Hospital Operational and Financial Status. An additional objective of this project was to help alleviate the stress on local emergency rooms stemming from the uninsured seeking non-emergency care. Decompression of emergency room services will benefit the entire community through improvements in trauma and critical care responsiveness. In addition, care in an after-hours clinic is provided at a fraction of the cost of the same service in an emergency room, which lessens the financial burden of these community hospitals.
• Create a Broader Sense of Professionalism Among Health Care Professionals. A much more complex hope project founders had was to instill a strong sense of responsibility to the poor among our health science and medical student graduates. Over the past decade, the percentage of U.S. physicians providing charity care has declined. We hope to inspire a new generation of physicians willing to volunteer care to the poor as a lifelong commitment.