An innovative collaboration between a new healthcare organization, Urgent Wellness, and the District of Columbia Housing Authority is providing medical services to the residents of Benning Terrace in their homes.

The Urgent Wellness model of care was conceptualized by Dr. Freya Spielberg while she was a faculty member and the director of Community Oriented Primary Care at George Washington University. In 2017, she created a team to design a new model of healthcare that would meet the needs of low-income residents of public housing. After winning the George Washington University New Venture Competition and developing a partnership with the housing authority, Urgent Wellness launched its first clinic in Benning Terrace in Ward 7.

“The Urgent Wellness team found that the best way to combat disparities in medical service delivery to low-income communities was to bring the services into the community,” said DCHA Executive Director Tyrone Garrett. “DCHA is always looking for innovative ways to make our communities and residents safe and healthy so this partnership was an obvious decision for us.” 

Garrett added that this clinic also fits in with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s four pillars of opportunities within the Envision Centers for affordable communities: health and wellness, economic empowerment, educational advancement, and character and leadership.

In addition to the founder,  Spielberg, who is currently an associate professor at the University of Texas Dell Medical School, the Urgent Wellness team includes Chief Technical Officer Luigi LeBlanc of Zane Networks,  Chief Operating Officer Charletta Washington of Precision Health, Community Engagement Specialist Deborah Nix of Keys to Canaan, and Data Manager Eric Luo. Urgent Wellness is partnered with Howard Family Medicine and Psychiatry, as well as local clinicians in the TriState alliance, and the McClendon Center for Behavioral Health. 

The Urgent Wellness Clinic is located in one of the units at the property, allowing residents to stop in for a visit and use state-of-the-art technology during appointments to see a wide range of specialists. What makes Urgent Wellness innovative is instead of waiting for patients to walk in the door, Community Wellness Navigators (CWN) go door to door to assess health needs and referral needs for social services.  Care plans are developed based on the assessment and CWN help link residents to services. For acute care, and when chronic diseases are out of control, Telemedicine is used so that residents do not need to go to the ER for medical assistance.

 “For the communities in Wards 7 and 8, that access is really critical. They get it right there in the community instead of having to go across town to a hospital,” Leblanc said. “Another part of this model that is really empowering is that it looks to hire resources from the community and giving pathways to employment.”

Spielberg and her team surveyed Benning Terrace residents to find out what their needs were before converting the unit to make sure the clinic would address the most pressing issues.

“Fifty percent of the people hadn’t been to primary care in the past year. And 37 percent went to the ER once or more for care,” Spielberg said. “When people go to the ER or Urgent Care clinics for their medical care, they don’t get the preventive care and chronic disease management that they need and then their health gets worse. Their diabetes isn’t adequately controlled, their hypertension is not addressed, and they do not get the cancer screening that they need for early detection, or the vaccines that are recommended.”

Following interviews and door-to-door assessments, the team wanted to improve health literacy and held group meetings on health topics. They started a walking group in the community and began distributing healthy foods. Then two months ago, they converted an apartment into the clinic, complete with a clinical room, a telemedicine room, and a gathering space. Currently a community health worker staffs the clinic twice a week and a physician comes once a week. They plan to expand hours as additional funding is secured.

The telemedicine software is on a computer that has a live video feed, similar to FaceTime or Skype, but also has the ability to measure vitals, listen to lungs, and examine the ears, nose, throat, and skin, Leblanc said. A group of physicians and medical professionals agree to see patients through the video connection and receive the results through secure connections that populate the patient’s medical record. If the patient needs emergency care, they are sent to the ER.

The clinic has done blood pressure screenings, has a mammogram machine come weekly, and has seen positive results already. Of the nine patients who had hypertension and are participating in the walking group, eight are already seeing reductions.

”This gives some of the residents a sense that they have a regular doctor,” said Nix, who has encouraged residents and neighbors to schedule visits and join the walking group. “They are pleased, but also, some of their doctors are pleased because they know this is helping their patients.”

“This is like concierge care in low-income housing,” Spielberg said. “It is having the best care to meet the needs of the people. Low-income patients have different needs than people who have resources to get to clinics and who don’t have so many barriers that get in the way of their health and their health care.”

She continued, “Right now we are trying to work out the financial model to be able to continue services long term. It would be wonderful to have a 24-hour on-call person and clinic open seven days a week. Ultimately, our vision is to have a virtual Community Clinic so that residents could benefit from telemedicine visits from an extended care team including pharmacists, nutritionists, social workers, lawyers, psychologists, psychiatrists, primary care clinicians, and specialists.  That is our vision.  We believe that this model of care will improve both health outcomes and patient satisfaction, and minimize health disparities while lowering overall health care costs.”


Upcoming hours and activities associated with the clinic:

► Saturdays, March 2, 16, and 30 from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. – Come get your height, weight, temperature, blood pressure, and blood sugar checked by a medical assistant. Call (202) 525-3042 for an appointment.

► Tuesdays, March 5 and 19 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. – SureTouch Free Breast Exams. Call (833) 787-3462 for an appointment.

►Wednesdays, weather permitting, at 10 a.m. – Walking Group. Call (202) 525-3042 for details.

Last modified: 2/28/2019 4:02:07 PM