BY NICK DIAMANTIDES
Dealing with a serious illness is bad enough, but sometimes patients and their family members have to pass through a seemingly impossible maze before getting the kind of health care they need. That maze includes deciding on the best treatment options, understanding how available insurance benefits and Medicare regulations work, coordinating the care provided by multiple doctors, and dealing with legal and social issues. Now, residents of the Long Beach/Signal Hill area can go to one facility to get help with all those complexities and more.
The facility is the 14,000-square-foot Willow Wellness Center, located at 2799 Temple Avenue in Signal Hill. Part of Memorial Healthcare Independent Physicians Association (IPA), Willow Wellness Center provides experienced physicians, nurses, case managers and social workers to help patients and their loved ones navigate through the healthcare system.
The facility officially opened on Tuesday morning, and more than 100 people showed up for the ribbon-cutting ceremony and tour.
Memorial Healthcare Medical Director Dr. Ronald Zent welcomed the attendees. He noted that the IPA has been operating Willow Urgent Care on the corner of Willow Street and Temple Avenue for about six years and the new center is an expansion of the services offered by the association.
“The kinds of people that will come here are well people and sick people,” Zent said. “Some will be very sick patients, especially seniors with multiple problems. We will coordinate their care and provide a quality experience. He noted that people who take multiple medications and see multiple physicians are suffering because doctors are not always able to consult with each other to develop a comprehensive treatment plan that addresses all the health issues of an individual patient. “If we can coordinate that through case management and clinical social workers and physicians trained to work with seniors, then we will have accomplished our goals,” he said, adding that Wellness Center staff will also help patients with their prescriptions and other medical supplies.
Patty Page, the IPA’s CEO, added that the Wellness Center has two departments– the intensive case management department and the disease management department. “My husband was sick for eight years; he died in January,” she said. “Even though I am a CEO of a medical company, it was terrible to navigate through the medical system.”
She explained that Wellness Center staff will work with patients and their families to develop a care plan that addresses both the physical and social concerns that affect their quality of life. “We want to be there during your worst time, keep you as healthy as we can, but prevent falls in any way we can,” she said, explaining that the Center offers a yoga program designed to stop seniors from falling. “Fifty percent of the people that fall and break a hip never walk again.”
According to Page, once Wellness Center staff identify a patient who is very frail, a team of professionals will begin work on formulating a healthcare plan designed to meet that patient’s specific needs. “We will teach them that when you have a problem that you think requires a trip to the emergency room, call us first,” she said.
Page explained that the Center might have cameras in the patient’s home or might be able to send a doctor or nurse to assess their situation. The goal, she added, is to avoid unnecessary trips to hospitals, which can be extremely stressful for elderly patients. For patients who have difficulty leaving their residence, the Center also offers regular in-home visits by doctors and nurses. Willow Wellness Center offers diabetic management, physical therapy, chiropractic, yoga therapy, weight-loss and fall-prevention programs. The Center provides intensive case management and a complete senior center with doctor talks, movie days, book clubs, fitness stations and annual art fairs.
Signal Hill Chamber of Commerce officers, community leaders and some elected officials were on hand for the ribbon-cutting ceremony, including Signal Hill Mayor Ellen Ward, Vice Mayor Ed Wilson and Councilman Mike Noll. “On behalf of the city, we want to welcome you, and we are here to do whatever we can to help you,” Ward said.
Physicians and representatives of various health-insurance plans including Health Net, Secure Horizons, Etna, Scan, and Blue Shield, were also there to talk to anyone interested in the services they provide.
”The staff that we have here and at Urgent Care are just fabulous, caring individuals,” Zent said. “It’s a real joy to work with all these wonderful people.”
Page noted that primary-care doctors who are still practicing medicine own Memorial Healthcare IPA. “They have decided to invest in this organization because they see the need with their patients for more hand-holding,” she said.
“We are really excited because we as an organization felt there was a need in this area for a wellness center and a senior center, and a disease management center,” said Lauren Carroll, provider relations supervisor for Memorial Healthcare “We are happy that we found a place for all that in Signal Hill.”