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RFU’s Health Equity Strategies Bolstered by Partnership with NorthShore University Health System

Healthcare access through RFU’s Community Care Connection will be enhanced through more than $680,000 in funding provided by NorthShore University Health System’s Community Investment Fund (CIF), which aims to improve health equity for residents of underserved communities.

One of just seven recipient organizations across Lake and Cook counties selected by NorthShore to collaborate on programs that enhance health and well-being, advance health equity and support local economic growth, RFU was granted the largest portion of the $2.6 million distributed among the seven awardees.

“We are excited to partner with Rosalind Franklin University’s Community Care Connection in helping to strengthen engagement and expand care so our entire community will have access to the health screening resources they need,” said Gabrielle Cummings, president, NorthShore Legacy Acute Care and Highland Park Hospital.

RFU has long worked toward improved health equity through numerous community-based health, education and workforce pathway initiatives. It is committed to building strategic partnerships across sectors to solve complex challenges.

“We are grateful for NorthShore’s support, which will allow us to expand our work with community partners to provide primary care services and health education for our neighbors most in need,” said RFU President and CEO Wendy Rheault, PT, PhD, FASAHP, FNAP, DipACLM. “We will continue to seek out philanthropic partners who will join forces with us to improve the well-being of communities.”

The Community Care Connection’s Care Coach provides mobile health services staffed by licensed healthcare professionals throughout Lake County, bringing residents a variety of free health screenings for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cholesterol and osteoporosis, as well as vaccinations and health-education programs.

The Care Coach primarily serves hard-to-reach patients in Antioch, Gurnee, Highwood, Mundelein, Round Lake, Round Lake Park, Waukegan and Zion who may be unable to access reliable health resources due to a lack of transportation, citizenship status, financial issues and other social conditions that frequently contribute to poor health. For many underserved residents in the Lake County community, the Community Care Connection is their first step toward better long-term health.

At its current operating level, the Community Care Connection annually saves 400 quality adjusted life years, reduces emergency department usage by approximately 650 visits and results in almost $30 million in total cost savings. The partnership and support from NorthShore will help extend the hours of operation of its mobile outreach and ensure that the Community Care Connection continues to provide those in greatest need with essential health screenings, health education and connections to additional healthcare resources for those who lack a medical home.

Language barriers can make accessing care particularly difficult for those whose primary language is not English. Nearly half of the Care Coach’s patients speak Spanish as their primary language, so having bilingual healthcare providers present on the coach is essential to helping patients access the care they need. As one Colombian-born Highwood resident said of her experience obtaining COVID-19 testing from the Care Coach, “The healthcare team made me feel at ease. I could ask questions about my results, even if I thought of them later. You get so nervous sometimes about these things with the pandemic.”

Bringing Health Services to those in Greatest Need

The CIF partnership will help RFU address health disparities that exist in its own community and surrounding areas. Research shows that towns in Lake County with the highest poverty levels have some of the worst health-related measures based on indicators used by the Illinois Department of Public Health. According to the Live Well Lake County Community Health Improvement Plan (2016 – 2021), 35% of adults in Lake County have been diagnosed with hypertension, 6% have been diagnosed with diabetes and 14% have been diagnosed with pre-diabetes. The highest incidences for these diseases are clustered in the lowest income regions of the county.

The differences in life expectancy and health measures between high- and low-income towns in Lake County, combined with high incidence of preventable and manageable disease in lower-income areas, underscores the need to bring free health services to underserved and under-resourced regions.

Mobile health programs have been proven to achieve good patient outcomes, show significant returns on investment, and reach underserved communities that all too often are missed by traditional healthcare delivery models. According to the Mobile Health Map initiative that works with hundreds of mobile health programs nationwide to evaluate impact, the average mobile health program results in 600 fewer emergency department visits each year, saves 65 quality adjusted life years for every year of operation, and saves the U.S. healthcare system $12 for every $1 invested in the mobile health sector.

The Care Coach travels to more than 30 established sites and partner organizations throughout Lake County, meeting people where they’re at in central locations including village halls, schools, senior centers, shelters, food pantries, social service agencies, libraries, churches and community centers. Information about the monthly schedule can be found online or by calling 847-578-8451.

Posted March 1, 2022
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