By Doug Oakley
Bay Area News Group
Keeping elderly and disabled people out of hospital emergency rooms for preventable ailments is the aim of a $1.1 million federal grant awarded to a Berkeley clinic as part of President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act.
LifeLong Medical Care and its Over 60 Health Clinic will hire 60 new employees as part of the grant.
The grant is one of $122 million in Health Care Innovation Awards given out recently to 26 recipients. The federal government hopes the grants will help 749,000 patients across the country save $250 million in unnecessary medical costs, said Herb Schultz, a regional director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services based in San Francisco.
Schultz was one of several federal officials, including U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, who attended an event at LifeLong on Friday to announce the awards.
LifeLong and The Center for Independent Living will work together on the three-year project, said LifeLong Executive Director Marty Lynch.
The clinic will hire 60 peer educators to work with disabled and elderly patients to manage their health care so they avoid "inappropriate" visits to emergency rooms that could be prevented, Lynch said.
Lynch said examples of emergency room visits that could be avoided include diabetics who don't manage their blood sugar levels and suddenly become very sick, people with untreated mental health issues who end up in the emergency room when their anxiety becomes unmanageable, someone who is constipated and doesn't know what to do or who has untreated high blood pressure and "starts feeling dizzy at 8 or 9 at night on a Saturday and ends up in the emergency room."
"The challenge is how do you get people engaged in their own care and feel like it is their own rather than a doctor telling them what to do," Lynch said. "Our peers are going to teach a group class for disabled patients and lead once-a-week counseling sessions around life and health issues."
More than 3,000 applications across the country were received for the 25 grants, Schultz said.
Doug Oakley covers Berkeley. Contact him at 510-843-1408. Follow him at Twitter.com/douglasoakley.