March 20, 2017
Area(s) of Interest: Family Medicine Physician Leadership
||Debra Lupeika, M.D.
When Debra Lupeika, M.D., a family physician at Shasta Community Health Center in Redding, steps into the center’s Project HOPE (Health Outreach for People Everywhere) van she feels good that she can give almost all citizens in the region access to health care.
The HOPE van, which serves over 290 homeless patients every month, is equipped with two exam rooms that can be used for medical or dental treatment. The mission of Project HOPE is to deliver primary health services, essential for human wellness, to the most vulnerable citizens of the community.
The van, staffed by physicians and resident trainees, travels to homeless encampments throughout the area, under bridges, to people living on the streets, to the local rescue center and to a domestic violence center. “We try to reach all the area residents,” she says.
When reflecting on the care she provides, she tells the story of a visit to the domestic violence center the previous day. “The daughter of one of the shelter residents had a bladder infection. I was able to treat her and expedite a prescription for antibiotics,” said Dr. Lupeika. The mother was delighted because she would not have to travel to ER and wait for help. “Transportation and a long ER wait was an issue. The fact that I could easily solve the problem for her lifted a burden.”
Dr. Lupeika is also Program Director of the Family Medicine Residency Program at Shasta Community Health Center, which brings family practice residents to the health center to train for three years. The program is part of the federal Teaching Health Center program, created with a $230 million appropriation in the Affordable Care Act to help train residents in 60 medically underserved locations in 27 states.
The Shasta residency program, which began in 2013, has seen two graduating classes. Through the program, the center has been able to recruit two new doctors. “Not only do these students work in the clinic, they also go out on calls with me in the van. It is important to teach them about community outreach, no matter where they wind up practicing.”
One of the most difficult issues the center faces is referrals to specialty providers. The area does not have a lot of specialists to begin with and most do not take patients with Medi-Cal because of the low reimbursement, she says.
The frustration of not being able to refer wears on her – like the time her patient suffered without an appointment. “She had complicated medical problems, and she was homeless,” Dr. Lupeika says. “She had a cancer on her face that had been partly removed, but it came back. We couldn’t get a biopsy. It is really hard to get our patients into specialist due to insurance issues.”
The clinic has been able to attract several specialists to come to the clinic once a week to see patients onsite.
Being able to provide care to such a diverse patient base is very satisfying to Dr. Lupeika. “It makes me feel good that I am helping to improve my patients' lives by providing access to health care. It just feels right.”
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