Daughters of Charity expands health care ministry

Daughters of Charity Health Centers has expanded again by opening its newest location on the first floor of Dillard University’s three-story Student Union in Gentilly.

The 12,000-square-foot facility, opened in May at 100 Warrington Drive at Gentilly Boulevard, offers full primary and preventative medical care for the whole family (prenatal, pediatric and geriatric care), a pharmacy, lab, dental and behavioral health services for the whole family.

“It will be unique in the fact that it is accessible to students, faculty and those on campus and to the Gentilly area,” said Michael G. Griffin, president and CEO of Daughters of Charity Health Centers. It is part of the new Wellness Center at Dillard.

A needs assessment of the area since Hurricane Katrina revealed there was a high, unmet need for medical services. Once other sites were operational, Daughters of Charity Health Centers had 1,000 patients coming from the Gentilly area.

“We already knew a need was there,” Griffin said.

During its first week of operation, 61 patients showed up. And, the location is seeing lots of foot traffic since it is a populous area. Its mobile unit was in service June 28 for the annual Dillard University Family Health Festival.

“We think it’s going to be very successful, from what we’ve already witnessed,” Griffin said about the new location.

Long discussions
Griffin, an alumnus of Dillard University, said before he worked with the Daughters of Charity he was on Dillard’s board in 2007 when the university began discussions on better interaction with the community and area businesses and offering broader health services.

By 2010, Griffin had become part of Daughters of Charity and discussions began in earnest about operating the new health center on campus. A contingent from Dillard’s visited Daughters of Charity’s St. Cecilia site and liked the idea of a medical home model where all medical care, including preventative health care, is coordinated in one location. In December 2013, Dillard’s and Daughters of Charity signed an agreement.

Griffin said it is a true community effort, with Tulane providing upstart resources, and Blue Cross/Blue Shield providing a $50,000 grant. They also will partner to offer behavioral health services, and are currently talking with LSU Dental School. The center currently aligns with LSU Health Sciences Center for OB/GYN services.

“It will be an entity that will be fully collaborative, with lots of partners coming together,” Griffin said.
New configuration

Since the Student Union was already constructed by the time an agreement was reached, Griffin said Daughters of Charity had to adapt to the new configuration to administer care. For example, it had to adapt a space for a pharmacy at the entrance to allow for routine medication drop off and pick up.

At its newest sites on Carrollton and in New Orleans East, Daughters of Charity was able to fully design the offices.    

Griffin said pediatrics and prenatal care are the fastest-growing aspects of care for Daughters of Charity. Dr. Michele Lagarde-May is the physician at the new site at Dillard.

Since 1834, Daughters of Charity has built a reputation of compassionate, high-quality care to the entire community, regardless of a person’s ability to pay. In fact, Griffin mentioned, it was a doctor at the former public Charity health care system that Daughters of Charity ran who suggested the nuns open a hospital so the well-to-do in New Orleans could have care matching the quality that Charity patients were receiving.

In 1859, Hotel Dieu opened, he said. Daughters of Charity has come full circle, expanding from one to five health centers after Hurricane Katrina.

“What we try to champion – and I think we do a pretty good job – is the message that there is no difference in the human condition. Everyone deserves the best and top-quality health care, and that’s what we try to deliver,” Griffin said.

The wellness model of preventative care developed out of community necessity, Griffin said. It is designed to keep people out of the hospital, which is less cost-efficient.

“Our success has been in our forward thinking on what’s best for the community,” Griffin said. “We try to take care of people so they are healthy and have access to low-cost medications as opposed to running to the emergency room, which is four times more expensive.”

Daughters of Charity won’t stop at five health centers – Bywater, Carrollton, Metairie, eastern New Orleans and Gentilly. Griffin said he always has his eyes out for other sites and benefactors. Fund-raisers, grants, donations and private-pay insurance contribute to the sustainability of the ministry.
“We are always keeping our eyes open for great partnerships and collaborations, but more importantly identifying the needs of a community and helping to meet those needs,” he said.

Daughters of Charity Health Center in Gentilly will hold an official ribbon-cutting ceremony Aug. 27 at 9:30 a.m. Hours are Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The health care facility accepts most private insurance, Medicaid, Medicare and GNOCHC. A sliding fee scale also is available, as well as low-cost medications through a pharmacy assistance program for those who qualify.

Christine Bordelon can be reached at cbordelon@clarion herald.org.

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