Bridging Buffalo's gap between poverty, health care
The Buffalo News | June 10, 2018
Jesse Cole imagined himself becoming a highly paid physician working in a fancy hospital, just like those featured on television shows.
"That would be my career," said Cole, who was raised in suburban Maryland and came to Buffalo to study medicine.
But his thinking shifted.
Why? Because of the semester he and 13 fellow students at the University at Buffalo Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences spent in one of Buffalo's poorest neighborhoods.
Through the fledgling Health in the Neighborhood course, first-year students experienced life in an underdeveloped, mostly black community. Their firsthand look at housing blight, economic challenges, limited access to grocery stores – coupled with health inequities and disparities – resonated deeply as they train to become the next generation of doctors.
Just months after the groundbreaking of the $6-million facility on Niagara Street, Greater Buffalo United Accountable Healthcare Network CEO Dr. Raul Vazquez seems pleased with the success doctors, nurses, specialists and care coordinators are having at touching the lives of patients who otherwise might fall between the cracks, lost to addiction or disease.
The approximately 200 staff members employed at GBUAHN are proud of the new four-story building, eager to show off its labyrinth of corridors, call centers, consultation rooms and offices. This place has become not just a job opportunity, they say, but a source of pride on Buffalo’s West Side. And they’re eager to tell the stories of success and thanks they’ve seen and heard firsthand in treating the area’s Medicaid participants as a Lead Health Home.
Not one to sit still, Vazquez knows the progress made addressing healthcare for Buffalo’s urban populations is only just beginning. And largely through his own funding, he’s ready to think big.
“I would rather wear that hat than have somebody else wear it for me,” Vazquez, a Bronx native and University at Buffalo Medical School graduate, says.
The front of the Urban Family Practice office on Jefferson Avenue looks as unassuming as it gets along a nondescript strip mall on the city's East Side.
But inside, Drs. Raul Vazquez and Chet Fox are building what they see as the primary care medical practice of the future.
They're following a recipe Vazquez is using on the West Side, where he recently opened a new $6 million building that serves as the headquarters for his Urban Family Practice, as well as an assortment of newer ways to deliver and pay for care. These include value-based arrangements in which doctors and hospitals take on more of the financial risk of ensuring that their patients receive the services they need.
One of the new payment models is the Greater Buffalo United Accountable Care Organization operated in partnership with YourCare Health Plan, a Rochester insurer. The organization, which includes doctors from throughout Buffalo, is responsible for thousands of Medicaid patients in a contract that imposes quality measures and puts the doctors at financial risk for costs.
Since the grand opening of its new Lower West Side facility in September 2017, Greater Buffalo United Accountable Healthcare Network (GBUAHN) has been growing by leaps and bounds. As of Friday, February 1 of this year, the healthcare network has enrolled a whopping 8000 members.
The incredible growth is being attributed to myriad factors. Not only did GBUAHN build state of the art facilities, the Lower West Side campus is also conveniently located in a neighborhood that serves its primary client base. GBUAHN’s new multi-million dollar medical facility at 505 7th Street (learn more), is located directly behind 564 Niagara Street, Building 2.
GBUAHN acknowledges that its continued growth is partially due to its convenient location. But it also states that its clients appreciate the effort that goes into helping them to navigate the oft-complex Medicaid system. GBUAHN has also been making significant strides in ensuring that its patients have access to maintenance care for chronic conditions such as diabetes, asthma and high blood pressure. With the help of dietitians, and other health oriented resources, the goal is to keep patients healthy, rather than seeing them rolling through the door for emergency visits. The result from all of these initiatives is a tripling of size of the healthcare network over the last five years.