The Journal Gazette
Monday, January 24, 2022 1:00 am

Five questions for Angie Zaegel

President, CEO, Neighborhood Health

1 Neighborhood Health has rebranded itself over the past few years. Tell us about how Neighborhood Health has grown, as well as your plans for the L.C. Ward building.

We've added critical behavioral health services as well as expanded optometry services. We're adding an on-site pharmacy at our Calhoun Street location and continue to add to our medical team to ensure the vulnerable populations we serve have access to comprehensive, compassionate care.

Speaking about the former Ward location, we know that health disparities disproportionately affect poor and minority families – a reality made painfully clear throughout the pandemic. Lack of access both in terms of location and operational hours widens the gap in the services these families are receiving. It is our mission to mitigate these barriers and provide quality health care for all.

Expanding services to our newly acquired Ward building in the heart of the Oxford community is our newest opportunity to do just that. In southeast Fort Wayne, the social determinants of health, such as lack of quality health care, community context and financial stability, create the perfect storm. For example, this ZIP code in which the Ward facility sits is home to one of the highest infant mortality rates throughout the country. That's why our facility will be so important in expanding access to prenatal care for that area.

Overall, our Ward location will enable us to provide comprehensive, primary care services in an integrated care model in the heart of this community. This will be the first and only comprehensive medical home in the area with these types of services and wrap-around support. We are excited to embark in transforming this new location into an oasis of hope for a community that needs and deserves our support.


2 Neighborhood Health is designated as a Federally Qualified Health Center. How does this distinguish you from other health care providers?

We are proud of our status as the only fully funded Federally Qualified Health Center in the area. These are community-based, patient-directed health care providers that receive federal funds to provide primary care services in underserved areas. As such, we must meet a stringent set of requirements, including providing care on a sliding fee scale and operating under a governing board that includes patients. We provide critical, comprehensive health care services to everyone regardless of their insurance status.

We integrate access in areas where barriers can otherwise limit access to affordable, quality health care. And part of how we accomplish that is through the collaborative spirit we've built with organizations like Parkview, Lutheran and others. We recognize we all play an important role in addressing the health care needs of our community.

By emphasizing coordinated care management of patients with multiple needs and the use of key quality improvement practices – including health information technology – centers like ours reduce health disparities. And we've been doing it for more than 50 years – another fact we're incredibly proud of.


3 What has the pandemic taught your team about health care? How do you see it affecting the future of health care?

While it's taught us – and is still teaching us – a lot, I'd say there are two lessons that have been most important.

The first is the importance of technology and adaptability. We all had to learn how to continue providing critical medical services to at-risk and underserved populations, and technology has played a vital role in our ability to do that. The flexibility and adaptability of our team has also played a vital role – I'm continuously in awe of and inspired by how they've adapted.

The second is the importance of relationships. We are constantly sharing stories we hear from patients about what their experience with Neighborhood Health meant to them. We've always focused on having Neighborhood Health feel like home, but I feel the past couple of years have reinforced and emphasized just how important that part of the experience is for people.


4 Necessity is the mother of invention, and we saw that with the explosive growth of telehealth during the first year of the pandemic. How is Neighborhood Health adjusting to this change? Can it help drive more people to using your services?

Given the language and technological barriers many of our patients still encounter, our utilization of telehealth has been focused and intentional, with highly successful results. We introduced telehealth in 2020 specifically in support of our behavioral health services, providing a way for those patients and their providers to connect virtually and confidentially. We've seen very successful results around these specific services and are exploring the next service areas we can extend telehealth to.

Language translation and interpretation is an area that makes sense. Almost a quarter of our patients are better served in another language – we translated information into 28 different languages last year alone. And even though we have on-site interpreters in multiple languages, we see telehealth helping support our efforts moving forward because having the staff and technological capabilities to handle those needs in real time is important.

Digital inequity is a challenge with some of our patients, so we're going to continue to be intentional in making telehealth available.


5 When compared to other areas of the city, Neighborhood Health's locations are in areas where people suffer from acute health problems, premature death and a high infant mortality rate. How should we, as a community, address the disparity?

The most important and effective way is to invest in organizations like Neighborhood Health that are working on the front lines. We could not do what we do without the support of our compassionate community. Our funding comes from a crucial mix of sources – federal and state grants, local foundations and private donations.

We are committed to building healthier communities by delivering comprehensive, quality health care regardless of socioeconomic status. Contributions and investment from the community help us keep costs as low as possible. For our team, the best way to address these disparities is to strengthen the organizations working to do just that. Whether you're an organization wanting to invest in or partner with Neighborhood Health or an individual wanting to support what we do, it all adds up and helps.

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