Star Community Health, which operates federally funded health centers, has received two quality awards from the federal agency responsible for improving health care for economically vulnerable people. With centers in Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton, and a mobile dental van, Star Community Health provides comprehensive primary care, OB/GYN, dental and pediatric health services, regardless of the patients’ ability to pay.
The Community Health Quality Recognition (CHQR) program of the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, bestowed Star Community Health its:
- Advancing Health Information Technology (HIT) for Quality Award, recognizing health centers that meet all criteria to optimize HIT services that advance telehealth, patient engagement, interoperability, and collection of social determinants of health to increase access to care and advance quality of care. (Social determinants of health are the conditions in the environments where people are born, live, learn, work, play, worship, and age that affect a health, functioning, and quality-of-life outcomes and risks.)
- The COVID-19 Data Reporter Vaccination Report Award, recognizing health centers that supported data reporting for public health emergencies with response rates of 90% or more to the Health Center COVID-19 Survey from April 10, 2020 to July 2, 2021.
Laura Hetrick, interim executive director, explained that Star Community Health operates federally qualified and federally funded health centers focused on providing high quality, comprehensive care to patients of all races and ethnicities. The centers serve as a safety net for low-income and at-risk patients, including agricultural workers, undocumented residents and unsheltered individuals and families. (Unsheltered individuals are those who temporarily do not have a permanent home.)
The CHQR program recognizes health centers that have made notable quality improvement achievements in the areas of access, quality, health equity and health information technology for the most recent reporting period. The HRSA awards acknowledge the effort of Star Community Health to collect, track and analyze data to identify ways to improve quality patient care and community health.
“Data collection is important because it’s the true measure of our patient population in terms of needs and clinical quality measures,” said Hetrick. “We’re always looking for ways to serve our patients quickly and comprehensively. Also, we are very focused on reducing health discrepancies.”
By identifying needs, Star Community Health can find ways to address them. For instance, the team identified a need for vision services, and through a grant, obtained a device that enables primary care physicians to screen patients’ eyes and determine when they need to see an ophthalmologist for further evaluation and treatment.
Information from Star Community Health and other federally funded health centers throughout the country, helps to identify needs of at-risk patient populations, and educate lawmakers of those needs.
The Star Community Health works to shatter the image of health clinics where patients wait for hours in uncomfortable and unappealing surroundings, Hetrick said.
“Our centers are state of the art,” she said. “The Sigal Center in Allentown has every single service line in it. The Fowler Center in Bethlehem is in the same building as Northampton Community College.”
Star Community Health offers a sliding fee discount program for both insured and uninsured patients based on family size and income. All patients, including those with insurance, are welcome.
As federally financed HRSA providers, Star Community Health Centers are also staffed with social workers, case managers and financial counselors.
“Anyone who is uninsured meets with our financial counselors to figure out what they are eligible for,” she said. “Our counselors help patients apply for Medicaid and other government programs for which they are eligible.” They also guide Medicare patients who didn’t elect to purchase co-insurance on how to manage the cost of medications. In addition, registered nurse case managers help patients obtain authorization for services and navigate the health care system.
Besides tracking data, Star Community Health uses patient satisfaction surveys to learn more about needs and preferences. In addition, patients comprise more than half of the Board of Directors. “This helps to drive our actions as a health center in the right direction,” Hetrick said.
In fiscal year 2021, which ended June 30,158 staff providers and staff members who work at Star Community Health provided approximately 42,000 patient visits. From April to June 2021, patient volumes increased 30% over the prior quarter. Throughout the pandemic Star Community Health continued to provide patient visits, including dental. Both in-person and virtual visits were available.
“I’m very proud that we are in a position that we can service our community with the health care that we have to offer,” she said. “Providing services, such as vaccinations, to all patients in need, including our undocumented and unsheltered neighbors, benefits the health of our entire community.”
Visit www.starcommunityhealth.org or the Star Community Health Facebook page for locations, hours, telephone numbers and other information.