West Suburban Hospital’s recently approved federal grant will help employ more than a dozen outreach workers to work in its E.R. and that of its two sister hospitals, West Sub officials have announced.

West Sub, part of Resurrection Health Care, received a $1.85 million grant to target uninsured and under-insured patients who use the E.R. as their primary care center. The Healthy Communities Access Program (HCAP) grant was approved last month. West Sub is the only hospital in the state approved for the grant and is one of 30 nationwide. West Sub sees an annual 50,000 visitors to its E.R. each year. West Sub and its sister medical centers – St. Mary Medical Center and St. Elizabeth Medical Center – see an annual of 115,000 patients a year. Hospital officials estimate that roughly 10 percent of that population uses the hospital as their primary care center and not for immediate emergencies. The grant is expected to target an estimated 12,000 West Side residents age 18 to 64. Those patients have little or no medical coverage and often times make repeat visits to the E.R., officials said.

The grant in part will be used to hire and train 13 new community outreach workers who will assist those patients through counseling, questioning them on their condition and needs, and in follow up consultation.

The outreach workers will be hired at West Suburban Hospital, 3 Erie Court, St. Mary, 2233 W. Division and St. Elizabeth, 1431 St. Claremont Ave. The two-year funded project is expected to reduce the numbers of uninsured patients’ trip to the E.R.

“The E.R. people are not setup to provide comprehensive care,” said Harry Piotrowski, director of Research and Grants at West Sub, adding that the E.R.’s primary function is to handle on-the-spot emergency care.

The hospital is currently interviewing applicants who are required to have High School diploma or G.E.D., have worked in health care or community-based organizations and for St. Mary and St. Elizabeth in particular, are bilingual.

Community Outreach Workers have been used as a link between patients and medical practitioners for some years. The National Center for Primary Care at the Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta conducted a study in 2000 of social and human service providers, or paraprofessionals who assist families in accessing health care and social services. Community outreach workers make up a growing number in that field, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics cited in the study.

The actual numbers of community outreach workers are hard to come by because the definitions vary from institution to institution, but the Morehouse study estimates that more than 129,000 individuals were employed as social and human service providers in 2000. The study did find that a majority of outreach workers working in the health care and other social services come from the community they serve.

West Sub’s Community Outreach Coordinator Amy Jo Gladfelter said those individuals are exactly who the hospital plans to hire.

“For some of those individuals, they may not have had full-time jobs before and are just out of school, or they may have their bachelor’s degree in something like community health but the job market is so tight that they’ve been working in retail,” she said. “So for some, this is their opportunity to get their foot in the door. And after these two years are up they’ll be highly trained outreach specialists who will be able to offer those skills back to the community.”

CONTACT: tdean@wjinc.com