Upton supports Lakeland request for federal status of family clinic

By By MARCIA STEFFENS / Niles Daily Star
CASSOPOLIS -- Lakeland Family Clinic in Cassopolis was the first stop on U.S. Rep. Fred Upton's agenda Monday morning before heading to International Paper in Sturgis and stops in Centreville and Kalamazoo.
Certified as a Rural Health Clinic in 1993, Lakeland Regional Health System purchased the clinic from Dr. Aaron Warren the same year.
Now Lakeland is seeking Upton's assistance in securing a federal status, as opposed to being state sponsored.
Lakeland "would then have access to federal 330 grant dollars to provide care for the uninsured and under-insured," she added.
Lakeland also operates Family Care in Niles and Family Clinic in Benton Harbor.
In May, all three of Lakeland's primary care offices received the Michigan Peer Review Organization's (MPRO) most prestigious award, the Governor's Award for Excellence for Improving Preventative Care in the Ambulatory Care Setting.
Of Michigan's approximately 1,400 primary care physician offices, only 66 received this award.
She told the Congressman about one of the two new programs they have planned for the fall, which would offer would offer needed diabetic education. The other would assist with all the paperwork to find low cost or free medications for seniors and those who need assistance.
The goal of the Clinic, joining with other community programs, is to extend "not only to medical treatment, but to a continuum of coordinated care and vital support services that can lead to positive health outcomes and healthier behaviors and lifestyles."
The annual operating loss is about $180,000, Middleton informed Upton.
This loss from providing care to the under-served is presently covered by the Lakeland Regional Health System Board of Directors.
For a rural heath clinic, the uninsursed population keeps growing, added David O'Conner, vice president of business services for Lakeland Regional Health System.
Dr. Warren, who is now retired, and Dr. Lowell Smith, a specialist practicing in oncology in St. Joseph, established the clinic nearly 40 years ago to provide local family medical services to the Cassopolis area
They too were faced with years of declining revenue from government funded programs before enhanced reimbursement came in 1992 through the Medicare and Medicaid programs.
Woodlands Behavioral Systems, which is east of the downtown of Cassopolis, and an eye doctor once shared the space in the building on School Street, now filled with the clinic examination rooms, offices and waiting room.
On their wish list is a separate entrance for use by ambulance personnel coming in to transport patients, Middleton explained to Upton.
The privacy could also be used when inmates from the Cass County jail were brought to the clinic for treatment. Dr. Warren originally started practicing jail medicine, added David O'Connor, vice president of business services for Lakeland.
Presently prisoners are transported to the emergency room at Borgess-Lee Memorial Hospital in Dowagiac, which is more expensive for the county, added Keryl Conkwright, R.N., Patient Care Manager.
Answering a question by Upton, Conkwright explained the difference between a walk-in clinic and open access, which was begun about one year ago.
Patients call for an appointment, which is better use of the patients, doctors and staffs' time, than having six people walk in at the same time, she said. Emergencies are seen as soon as possible, she assured.
Upton also asked if they had seen any cases of the West Nile virus, with Michigan having the second highest amount of deaths last year at 53 and over 700 cases. None had yet been reported, he was told. He was also concerned about blood supply.
The Lakeland Family Clinic in Cassopolis provides patient visits of more than nearly 20,000. The medical staff consists of board-certified family practitioners Neil See, M.D., and Ellen Tambunan, M.D., as well as Ogubay Mesmer, M.D., whose specialty is internal medicine.
The doctors are aided by two Physician Assistants and a highly qualified nursing staff.
The clinic is open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday and from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday. Call (269) 445-3874 for an appointment or with questions.

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