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  • Writer's pictureState Rep. Kelly Keisling

Mountain People’s Health Councils has been recognized among the top health care centers

James Lovett, MPHC’s CEO, informed his staff and board of directors of the news in an email on Tuesday, Oct. 5, telling them that Mountain People’s has again been recognized among the top 1%-2% of health centers in the U.S. in terms of quality patient outcomes for heart health, and in the top 10% for all quality measures.

“With health centers nationwide seeing over 30 million patients last year, recognition as both a National Quality Leader and a Gold Health Center Quality Leader is an amazing accomplishment, let alone doing it three years in a row,” Lovett said.

In terms of the quality of care it provides, MPHC stands alone in Tennessee. It is the only health center in the state to be awarded the National Quality Leader award in 2021, and it is now the only three-time winner of the award in the state’s history.

“That is impressive!” Lovett said. “This year we were also recognized for reducing health disparities that impact the patients we serve and for expanding access to patients in need.”

That distinction is especially important because it fulfills some of the very goals that Mountain People’s was created to address. As a rural community, Scott Countians would not otherwise have access to the wide range of services that are available in urban population centers. It was with that shortcoming in mind that MPHC was founded in 1974, to help provide medical care for families that did not have access to care, or that could not afford to go to the doctor when they were sick.

MPHC started with a single clinic in Norma. Today, Mountain People’s is headquartered in Oneida, and also has clinics in Huntsville, Winfield and Elgin, in addition to the original clinic in Norma.

Mountain People’s Health Councils’ 2021 awards include recognition among the top 1%-2% of health clinics in America for heart health outcomes, top 10% of health clinics in America for overall health outcomes, reducing disparities among health care access within the community, and enhancing access to health care services among the underserved.

For nearly 50 years, the clinic has transformed the community’s access to health care. While coal mining isn’t the lifeblood of the Norma area today that it was in the mid 1970s, there are still dozens of families who live in the region. It’s a 45-minute drive from Smokey Junction to Oneida, but it’s only about a 10-minute drive down the road to the Norma health clinic.

The growth of MPHC to every part of Scott County has addressed the issue of access to health care, while Mountain People’s sliding fee scale has addressed the issue of health care affordability. The sliding fee discount program allows health care access that all patients can readily afford, regardless of their economic status.

The fact that MPHC ranks most highly in heart health outcomes is especially important for a community where heart disease is especially prevalent. In 2014, the most recent year for which statistics are publicly available, the rate of hospitalizations due to heart attack is almost twice as high in Scott County as the statewide average — 54 per 10,000 people vs. 28 per 10,000 people statewide.

While heart disease is America’s leading cause of death, it can also be preventable. An increased risk for heart attack is linked to sedentary lifestyles, obesity, high blood pressure and chronic illnesses like diabetes.

In fact, diabetics are twice as likely as non-diabetics to suffer a heart attack or stroke, and that’s especially true for poorly managed diabetes. High blood glucose levels can damage blood vessels and the nerves that control the heart over time. As America’s type 2 diabetes epidemic accelerates, poorly managed diabetes is often due to a lack of routine monitoring by a family physician or an inability to afford medications like Metformin and insulin. In time, that leads to an increased risk of heart disease and other complications.

But MPHC not only employs the sliding fee scale that helps patients afford their routine office visits, the organization can also assist with the costs of prescription drugs.

Additionally, MPHC employs behavioral health providers that enable it to focus not just on the physical aspects of a patient’s health, but also on their mental wellness. It’s part of a wholistic approach to health care that Lovett and his team envision as a step towards a healthier community, realizing that there are often emotional and behavioral components to chronic health issues.

MPHC’s 2021 awards extend beyond enhancing access to health care within the community. Mountain People’s also received a Health Disparities Reducer award, meaning that it demonstrated a 10% improvement in the areas of low birth weight, high blood pressure and uncontrolled diabetes within segments of the community.

Perhaps most notably, MPHC last month was recognized for being among the Top 20 health centers in the nation in terms of quality for colorectal and cervical cancer screenings, diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity and depression.

“Not top 20%, but top 20 out of nearly 1,400 health centers nationwide,” Lovett stressed.

In fact, Mountain People’s has been invited to be a presenter during a live training session for the Elevate program, which brings together the best-performing health centers in the nation to share how they have been successful in helping their patients. This will mark the second time in the last two years that MPHC has been invited as a presenter.

Meanwhile, MPHC has built a state-of-the-art pediatric and dental clinic in Oneida to expand its wholistic approach to health care to the entire family — providing dental care as well as health care, and focusing on specialized children’s health care in addition to primary care. The expansions continue there, as MPHC recently added a second dentist — Dr. Ashley Fleck — to join Dr. Timothee Gansore.

Mountain People’s is seldom content to rest on its laurels, and plans are constantly being laid for the future. In the meantime, the prestigious awards being received by the health center have cemented its status as one of the top health care providers in all of rural America.

“These awards are a tremendous honor and they highlight just how hard each of you have been working over the last year and how effective your efforts have been on the health of our patients,” Lovett said in an email to his staff. “Scott County is blessed to have each of you working in our community. Thank you for all you do every day to help someone feel better or to ease their pain or suffering. What you do matters!”

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