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'Health Enterprise Zones' Aim to Ease 9-1-1 Call Load

ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- In health care circles, groups of patients have been dubbed "frequent fliers."

An Annapolis apartment building - the Morris H. Blum Senior Apartments, better known as the Glenwood Highrise - was the source of 220 emergency calls to 911 in the past 12 months, as well as 175 emergency room visits within only six months.

Of those calls to 911 from the public housing tower, which has 184 residents, about 40 percent of the emergency room visits were due to nine people.

"I always think we should get the paramedics a cake or something because they're here so often," said resident Brenda Williams. "We have a lot of sick people here."

On Thursday, as state officials announced the first "Health Enterprise Zones," Annapolis health officials were among those celebrating the selection of the Annapolis 21401 ZIP code to receive the new designation, which is meant to address health disparities.

Health officials will receive nearly $1 million over four years to figure out a way to solve the problem.

The idea is to create a primary care office inside the apartment building.

"We are bringing health care literally into their home," said Tori Bayless, the Anne Arundel Medical Center's president and chief executive officer.

Residents need primary care staff who will accept government insurance and who will help prevent and manage chronic ailments that too often become emergencies, said Pat Czapp, chairwoman of clinical integration at Anne Arundel Health System.

Health care officials need a way to find cost savings. A typical primary care visit for an ailment such as an infection might cost $75 to $100, Czapp said. When a person calls 911, gets an ambulance ride, receives emergency care and is admitted, the cost can top $10,000, she said.

The Health Enterprise Zones program was created by the Maryland General Assembly last spring.

Participating health providers, nonprofit organizations and health agencies within the designated zones are eligible for extra funding for delivering primary care in communities that are underserved and experiencing higher rates of chronic diseases.

Other Health Enterprise Zones will be in Baltimore City and Baltimore County.

MedChi, the Annapolis-based Maryland State Medical Society, was announced as a co-recipient of a Health Enterprise Zone that also will serve the Eastern Shore.

"The lack of adequate access to a physician is a critical factor in the incidence of health disparities," said MedChi CEO Gene Ransom. "Hopefully, these programs can begin to remedy the situation."

Area officials said they welcomed the help.

"When people think about Annapolis, they don't think poverty. They think 'Sailing Capital of the World,'" said Vincent O. Leggett, the executive director of the Housing Authority of the City of Annapolis.

"There's the other Annapolis, as they say, where there are these pockets of poverty," Leggett said. "But we're not just shining a light on it, we're offering real alternatives."

There are challenges to putting a physician's office in a residential building. Offices taking up about 1,000 square feet of space - previously shared by the property manager, a social worker and other staff members - s being sacrificed for the medical suite, Leggett said.

The Housing Authority will have to upgrade its Internet service to high-speed lines to be able to handle medical records and copies of X-rays.

There's also marketing to consider. People are used to using the emergency room for health concerns. It's common for people to forgo prescription treatment once they start feeling better, and this can land them back in the hospital.

"Many traditionally underserved populations don't have a culture of seeking health care on a preventative basis," Legget said.

Williams said many neighbors were thrilled about the idea of primary care coming so close, removing the transportation problems involved with going to the doctor.

"The word will get out there," she said. "Believe me:We will be using this."


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