How Community Health Centers Lower Emergency Department Visits

The care provided at a community health center (CHC) goes beyond providing low- or no-cost services to underserved communities. Among other things, CHCs provide community health education to help close the health literacy gap.

A recent Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) study found that patients who receive care at CHCs, like Neighborhood Health Center (NHC), are less likely to make unnecessary trips to the emergency department.  This is primarily due to the patient education and care management provided in the CHC setting.

That is where NHC’s dedicated Membership & Engagement Services (MES) team comes in. The MES team works to reduce barriers to accessing care, including educating patients in a one-on-one setting about how and where they can seek care.

Yari Santoyo is a Certified Community Health Worker and Emergency Department Engagement Ambassador on the MES team. She works with patients to minimize unnecessary emergency department visits and shares the many additional in-house resources NHC provides.

“We spend a lot of time understanding why patients go to the emergency department,” says Yari.  “A lot of times it comes from the patient not knowing where to go for the type of care they’re seeking. For instance, a first-time parent doesn’t know what to do when their child is crying because their ear hurts, so they go to the emergency room because their immediate concern is the child’s pain.”

Yari talks with patients and families about how to seek appropriate care that meets their needs. NHC reserves a small number of same day appointments each day for urgent issues that may arise. Patients also have access to triage nurses for advice about when and where they should seek care.  Many patients don’t know when to go to urgent care instead of the emergency department. A triage nurse provides guidance on these types of decisions.

Yari also connects patients to the resources that help eliminate barriers to care.  For example, some patients can’t get to the clinic due to transportation but can get to an emergency department easily by bus.  She provides information about medical transportation services or helps set up Uber rides to get patients to the clinic.

A visit to the emergency department can leave a patient with a damagingly high bill.  Patient education about NHC’s Sliding Fee Discount Program (SFDP) is important so that patients feel confident they can access care regardless of their ability to pay.  A patient who knows they can receive appropriate care at NHC for a fraction of the cost of an emergency department visit is more confident in seeking care.

“A lot of my job is to listen, identify, and connect,” says Yari.  “One of the most rewarding parts of my role is helping a patient feel motivated to take charge of their healthcare by eliminating health barriers.  Education and coordination help goes a long way in a patient’s care.”

To connect with one of our engagement ambassadors, call your NHC clinic and request an appointment with a member of the MES team.