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Pa. health secretary sees benefits of SPHS Primary Care

Jim Ference | The Valley Independent
The Pennsylvania Department of Health Secretary Michael Wolf listens to Dr. Scott A. Cook, MD,MPH Medical Director at Primary Care in the Southwestern Pennsylvania Human Services building in Monessen on Monday, March 10, 2014, after taking a tour and meeting the employees and doctors.

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Tuesday, March 11, 2014, 12:31 a.m.

When the Community-Based Health Care Subsidy Program was approved by the state last year, the approach was for local health care providers to determine their need.

On Monday, Secretary of Health Michael Wolf came to Monessen to see how a $175,000 grant for SPHS Primary Care is being used.

He found that the Southwestern Pennsylvania Human Services-administered facility is meeting the Mon Valley's primary health care needs with a special approach.

Wolf has been touring the state, visiting many of the 40 new recipients that have received grants through the Community-Based Health Care Subsidy Program.

Wolf was in Washington, Pa., earlier in the day.

Primary Care was established in 1985. It operated out of the Mon Valley Community Health Center in Monessen until 2007, when it moved to the former Giant Eagle storefront in the city.

Those without health insurance are billed based on income and family size, SPHS Chief Operating Officer Luther Sheets said.

Primary Care serves roughly 3,300 Valley residents of all ages.

It is open 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Wednesday and Friday. It is open until 7 p.m. Thursday.

With the grant, SPHS hired two care managers and will employ a doctor who will work part time out of the office at the Mon Valley Shopping Center.

Equipment to perform blood tests is being purchased.

The state distributed $4 million through the health care subsidy and the Corbett administration hopes to double that in the 2015 fiscal year, beginning July 1, Wolf said.

Wolf said there are 2 million uninsured people in the state. The administration's goal is to get primary care to as many people as possible.

Wolf said the goal in creating the grant program was to let local primary care service providers decide how to best use the money. He noted that Free Clinic of DuBois used the grant to extend its hours from six to 25 weekly. Another grant is being used to hire a pediatrician in Washington, Pa.

“The idea of letting the local community decide – that's the way to go,” Sheets said.

“I've been in this for 30 years, and I've seen people chasing that money because it's there.”

Sheets said that last summer, before the funding bill passed, state Sen. Timothy Solobay, D-Canonsburg, sent him a copy of the proposed bill, asking: “Is this good? Will this help you?”

The underlying goal of Primary Care is to integrate behavioral and physical health care, Sheets said.

Dr. Scott Cook, the facility's medical director, said 70 percent of the patients he sees at Primary Care have medical needs as well as a “psychiatric component.”

Sheets said the decline of the steel industry left behind a community of uninsured people. They have lingering issues, such as diabetes, hypertension and kidney disease, for example.

“These folks have been underserved,” Sheets said. “Sometimes it's like Scott has his finger in the dike.”

“Down the road, we're going to see the benefits of this system,” Cook said.

Sheets said care managers are the key to Primary Care's success.

A care manager is a health concierge for patients – providing follow up after an initial doctor visit to ensure patients are scheduled for prescribed tests and make follow-up visits.

“This is exactly what the Corbett administration had envisioned when it announced the program,” Wolf said.

“I think Pennsylvania is ahead of most states,” Cook said.

Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2642 or

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