Oak Street Health in Blue Cross partnership to deliver primary care to Medicare patients

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When Oak Street Health opened its first medical facility solely for Medicare patients in Chicago, they figured it would be an instant success.

After all, who wouldn’t want to have access to a 24-7 call center about their health, make an appointment to visit a primary care physician knowing it would be that day or the following day at latest, and, even better, get picked up for a ride to the center?

But people didn’t beat down the doors, Oak Street Health Divisional President Amyn Andharia told a gathering Monday at the first of three Oak Street Health centers planned for Rhode Island in partnership with Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island.

The Warwick center – with 9,000 square feet of examination rooms, offices and a community meeting room that people are encouraged to visit for scheduled activities regardless of whether they are there for medical treatment – will employ upwards of 50 people when fully operational.

The center is located at 300 Quaker Lane – known locally as the Christmas Tree plaza – a couple of doors down from the Your Blue Store operated by BCBCRI.

Andharia explained inertia and skepticism were the two major roadblocks to people flocking to the center. He said Oak Street found some people had basically given up on health care, figuring they couldn’t get a primary care physician and were overwhelmed by Medicare. Others doubted Oak Street could deliver what they claimed to be offering.

Oak Street initiated an outreach program and enrollment grew.

“We believe patients should not have to know how Medicare works,” Andharia said.

That was in 2012, and now the Oak Street Health network has served 65,000 patients and operates 45 centers in six states.

From the remarks of Kim Keck, BCBSRI president and CEO, Oak Street Health was as much courted to come to the state as they were looking to expand. Keck said BCBSRI was seeking to “marry” its philanthropic efforts with its work and looked at an Oak Street Health competitor before deciding Oak Street Health was the best fit for BCBSRI and the community. The financial arrangement of the partnership was not disclosed nor was the cost of opening the Warwick center.

In a statement, Keck said: “Oak Street Health’s unique care delivery model – one that extends beyond the doctor’s office to offer transportation to appointments, social activities and events, and an around-the-clock patient support line – reflects our vision of passionately leading a state of health and well-being across Rhode Island. Because of its focus on adults on Medicare, Oak Street Health is uniquely qualified to care for Rhode Island seniors, especially those with multiple chronic conditions, deploying complex care teams and providing home nursing visits as needed.”

“Once a patient selects Oak Street Health as their Primary Care Provider, we seek to build a long-term relationship with the patient,” Andharia said in an email. Elaborating, he added, “Lab work is onsite but imaging, such as X-rays, are referred to external partners. We honor patient preference so the patient can choose the specialist or hospital of their choice in their plan network. The additional services are available at no cost to the patient.”

In a follow-up to questions, BCBSRI corporate offices wrote in an email: “Based upon analysis of healthcare quality and patient experience survey data in recent years, BCBSRI identified gaps in our state’s healthcare delivery ecosystem, actively sought a partner to improve care for this vulnerable population, and found a solution through partnering with Oak Street.”

The partnership was termed “a logical extension of our substantial investment in primary care practices that put patients at the center of a coordinated ecosystem of care.”

Oak Street Health’s Warwick location is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. Oak Street is planning two additional centers in Providence that are expected to open by the end of this year. To learn more about Oak Street Health, visit oakstreethealth.com.

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