Source: Courier-Post Online
Adrian Martinez started worrying as soon as he learned he had hepatitis C, a leading cause of liver failure. His primary care doctor at the Project H.O.P.E. clinic in his neighborhood gave him the bad news.
The clinic worked with Martinez, who spent a year on the streets of his hometown before recovering from alcohol abuse, to connect him to health insurance, appointments with a specialist in Cherry Hill and then, at long last, three months of expensive antiviral medication and more tests to see if the virus had been eradicated. Eight years since his diagnosis, he’s been cleared.
That process is about to get a lot easier for patients at the federally funded clinic, which serves a large homeless population in Camden. Project H.O.P.E. is enrolled in a global effort called Project ECHO (Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes), a program that teaches primary care doctors how to screen, treat and manage complex conditions that usually require a specialist.
In New Jersey, Medicaid patients can wait up to six months to see a specialist for complex conditions.
“There’s something to be said about having a relationship with a patient and being able to treat them for their conditions right in your office,” Dr. Lynda Bascelli, medical director of Project H.O.P.E. “Having that continuity of care is really important. We have a largely homeless, underserved population, who haven’t always been treated really well by our health system.”
Project ECHO relies on a web cam, an internet connection and free computer software to connect primary care doctors to specialists in weekly training sessions over 12 weeks. Robert Wood Johnson Partners are supporting ECHO projects focused on conditions like autism, attention deficit disorder and mental health issues among pediatric patients, hepatitis C, and a range of endocrinological diseases like diabetes and osteoporosis.
The cost of untreated hepatitis C is great, Bascelli explained, because it leads to liver failure. The clinic treats about 4,000 patients annually, and they make about 15,000 office visits. The clinic sees high rates of diabetes, hypertension, heart conditions, mental illness and substance use disorders — and many also have hepatitis C. The clinic screens patients for the virus, because it can be successfully treated. Starting early next year, the clinic will be able to treat them, too.
At 53, Martinez is active, healthy and well. “It’s not detectable,” he says. “I’m clean from that.”