Chesterton Tribune

New integrated clinic treats physical and mental needs at PorterStarke

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

A gathering of nearly 50 health care specialists, business leaders and state lawmakers applauded the official opening of the new healthcare clinic shared between Porter-Starke Services and HealthLinc, Inc. that will provide medical and mental treatment.

Minutes before a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Porter-Starke on Tuesday, Porter-Starke president and CEO Rocco Schiralli and HealthLinc CEO Beth Wrobel said partnerships were essential in bringing about the clinic. The project received support from Porter Health System and was awarded $25,778 matching grant from the Covidien and the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC) for the construction.

The healthcare agencies also picked up a community grant from the Valparaiso Rotary worth a little less than $3,000 that was used to purchase additional supplies.

The clinic, located on the ground floor of the main Porter-Starke building, blends both physical and mental health care for patients in need of both treatments, a combination that is relatively unseen. The area includes three private patient exam rooms, a waiting/reception area and a nurses station.

“It’s a novel idea,” said Wrobel, calling it “the Little Clinic that Could.” She mentioned part of the reason these types of clinics are uncommon is because the healthcare industry is very “disjointed.”

Schirialli said after looking at statistical research, the agencies saw higher counts of health problems such as obesity and diabetes in mental health patients than the general public. It was also found in comparison that chronically mentally ill patients have a life expectancy of 50 years, or 25 years shorter than their same-aged peers.

“We found this unacceptable,” Wrobel added. “We wanted to change that for patients in Porter County.”

Schirialli said the clinic will take into consideration treatments that can provide a healthier life style for individuals and prevent them from developing physical ailments later in life.

Since its opening in October, the new, integrated clinic has seen 42 percent of its patients lose weight, Wrobel said, and pointed out physical health improves mental health. As of now, the clinic sees 70 patients and the number is expected to grow to at least 300 from Porter-Starke and HealthLinc’s second location in Valparaiso.

The successful model has already caught the attention of other agencies on state and national levels. Representing U.S. Senator Richard Lugar’s Northwest Indiana Office, director Celina Weatherwax called the model “spectacular” and hopes those who emulate it will note the benefits of investing in partnerships.

On behalf of U.S. Representative Pete Visclosky, chief of staff Mark Lopez said the Indiana Primary Health Association has awarded the partnering agencies with “exemplary” status for their efforts and the congressman wished to acknowledge the cooperative efforts by state legislators Sen. Ed Charbonneau (R-Valparaiso) and Rep. Ed Soliday (R-Valparaiso). Both men were present Tuesday to take part in the ribbon cutting.

Lopez praised the agencies for seeing the need to provide care in this way.

“Two organizations came together to see what they could do to help,” he said.

HealthLinc has a ten-year history of collaboration with Porter-Starke and a small office together was opened nearly two years ago that was used as a test model for how the agencies could combine their services.

Outside of Valparaiso, HealthLinc has additional clinics in Michigan City, Knox and a new Mishawaka location which opened on Oct. 20.

The organization, which was originally named Hilltop Community Health Center when founded in 1996, provides primary care services without regard to patient ability to pay.

Wrobel said there are 16,800 residents of Porter County who are below the 200 percent poverty level and are not being served by a federally qualified health center.

She said her organization hopes to receive a federal grant to open another clinic in the Valparaiso area as the number of patients grows.

 

Posted 12/14/2011