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Hospital program is important resource

The Community Health Outreach Program at Sentara Obici Hospital is a valuable asset that was ahead of its time when it started.

The program currently includes about five team members who spend their days visiting more than 80 patients across Suffolk and Isle of Wight County. The nurses visit patients who live below the federal poverty line and suffer from chronic disease like diabetes or heart failure.

The idea of the program is to help patients manage their diseases well at home so they don’t get sick enough to go back into the hospital. But nurses often find that the patients suffered from more than just the disease. Sometimes, they didn’t have enough money to buy both food and medication; some didn’t have heat at home; some didn’t have transportation to get to regular doctor’s appointments.

“My eyes were opened to some of the situations people lived in,” said Lisa Arrington, who was the first visiting nurse in the program and still does this important work.

The nurses help the patients manage their medical needs and connect them to resources like the Western Tidewater Free Clinic to establish a relationship with a physician. They also help with basic living needs such as food.

Helping patients improve their health at home and avoiding readmission to the hospital is not just good for the patients themselves. It’s good for all of us.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, readmissions place patients at greater risk of complications and hospital-acquired infections. They’re also costly to taxpayer-funded health care; one in five of all hospital patients covered by Medicare are readmitted within 30 days, accounting for $15 billion a year.

Hospitals, of course, have a vested interest in making sure patients don’t have to come back to the hospital. They pay ever-rising penalties for having a readmission rate for certain patients that is too high. But Obici started this program 20 years ago, before the legislation that created these penalties took effect.

Obici deserves a round of applause for starting and continuing this program, as does former director Virginia Savage. It has undoubtedly made a difference in the lives of the patients who have participated.