The afternoon open house was a joyous occasion for residents of four adjoining neighborhoods, community leaders and health care professionals who have spent more than three years establishing the state-of-the-art health clinic in their own backyard.
It was 2009 when Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse donated the landmark restaurant on North Broad Street to replace Tulane University’s Community Health Center, which formerly operated out of Covenant House on the edge of the French Quarter. But financial help from the city and private foundations, including the Qatar Katrina Fund, was needed for the building’s $2.9 million renovation.
The move to 711 N. Broad St., at Orleans Avenue, has tripled the clinic’s space, enabling five full-time Tulane University Medical School faculty doctors to see several thousand patients a year, and providing room for community activities.
“We were limited at Covenant House because there were only five exam rooms; now they’ve got 13,” said Chief Medical Officer Dr. Eboni Price Haywood, who anticipates a 20-percent patient increase this coming year.
The majority of Covenant House patients lived in the 70119 ZIP code area, Haywood said. The new center is closer to its base, along a major bus line, and has a dedicated parking lot. Bilingual staff can assist Hispanic patients.
The health center welcomes all patients, with and without health insurance. “No one is turned away for inability to pay,” said Chodie Gabor, director of clinical services.
In addition to routine medical care for adults — including primary care, chronic disease management, health education and counseling, screening, elder care, women’s health and HIV care — the center offers social services and behavioral and mental health care.
Pediatric care will be added this summer.
Tulane partnered with the Xavier University College of Pharmacy, which provides a clinical pharmacist and pharmacy students to help with medication. On the second floor, the Brinton Family Health & Healing Center assists with legal aid, food stamp applications and doctor referrals.
A large, multipurpose room is available for yoga, exercise and community meetings. The center provides free computer literacy classes, so residents can access the Internet to learn about health and wellness. Children are welcome after school to do homework in the community room.
“The idea of a medical home expands the perception of a medical center,” Haywood said. Co-executive directors, Haywood and Leah Berger, wanted to create an environment that would foster a healthier community, providing psychosocial benefits beyond traditional health care services. That concept was incorporated into the facility’s design.
After Hurricane Katrina, there was an opportunity to reinvent the health care delivery system in New Orleans. Generations of people without health insurance had routinely sought treatment at Charity Hospital for every malady from flu to heart attack. Establishing a “medical home” at a community clinic allows patients to have a primary doctor and receive coordinated health care through electronic records and referrals to medical specialists.
Each primary care medical home team is led by a primary care provider who partners with a social worker, a pharmacist and additional team members who best meet the needs of the population.
Medical homes help reduce racial disparities in health care delivery and alleviate crowded hospital emergency rooms for non-urgent medical care, the doctors said.
“This has been a dream for us the past few years, to have the opportunity to provide high quality care to the community and lead a revolution in health care delivery,” said Dr. Benjamin Sachs, dean of Tulane’s School of Medicine. From 2007 to 2010, 395,000 people received care at New Orleans health care clinics, Sachs said.
From a community development standpoint, Keith Twitchell, a board member of Broad Community Connections, hopes the clinic will create a destination and unite four diverse neighborhoods — Tremé, Faubourg St. John, Mid-City and Lower Mid-City.
“We want to change Broad Street from a street you drive through to a street you drive to,” Twitchell said.
For information about the Ruth U. Fertel Tulane Community Health Center or to make an appointment, call 504.988.3000.
Mary Rickard is a contributing writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.