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Ceres nursing program seeks SB 491 passage
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To help ensure that Ceres area poor residents will continue to receive free medical services through a unique police department nursing program, the Ceres City Council voted Monday to support a crucial piece of legislation affecting those services.

The council agreed that a letter should be fired off to the state Capitol in support of Senate Bill 491 in time for a committee hearing held yesterday. The bill was being heard by the Senate Business & Professions Committee and faced opposition from two major physicians' lobbying groups, including the American Medical Association.

Nurse practitioner Dr. Dan Lucky told the council that the bill would allow unique programs like his to be overseen by an independent nurse practitioner rather than a licensed physician. He recalled how his program was in jeopardy of shutting down five months ago when the doctor who had been overseeing the volunteer-run clinic was ordered by Kaiser to end his involvement. The clinic scrambled to find another doctor, Patrick Rhoads, agreed to supervise it but Lucky would rather not be subjected to his program being shut down in the future if no doctor is available.

Eighteen states have similar laws.

Passage of SB 491 would mean "no longer would we be in jeopardy of being shut down because a medical supervisor decides to leave," said Lucky.

Lucky said his program is making a profound difference in the health of thousands. The program was embraced in 2006 by Ceres Chief of Police Art deWerk when Lucky came to him with the idea of offering preventative care "to those who are most at risk in the most vulnerable populations." With the city's backing, Lucky and a team of volunteer professionals began offering health screenings, such as blood pressure and cholesterol checks, to those who don't have insurance nor can afford regular visits to a primary care physician. Lucky offers those services at special events, farmers' and flea markets but has expanded to a Thursday clinic held in Modesto.

"Many hundreds of lives have been saved," said Lucky.

The area's poor is especially suffering from a lack of health-care access and often engages in some of the unhealthiest eating and lifestyle practices.

The program provided services to its 15,000th patient in October, largely because of the establishment of a culturally based managed care nursing center in Modesto. The program specifically provides services to persons who have been denied insurance by the state for Medi-Cal, and undocumented or uninsured workers. The program, called NAACP /Ceres Police Stop Gap Health Services, opened in early 2012. Located at 608 13th Street, Modesto, the clinic is open Thursdays from 1 p.m. to 4:45 p.m. and thus far has a total of 260 patients, of which 243 are classified as minorities. Lucky said that "is in line with the Healthy People 2020 Project which mandates that as health-care providers, as leaders in the community we actually do something about the disparity in health-care access with regards to minority-based populations."

Services at the clinic are provided to persons of all races but must be members of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), of which all races and persons may belong, noted Lucky.

Operated solely by volunteers, the clinic has seen "many positive outcomes" for patients, Lucky noted.

Patients diagnosed with high blood pressure, diabetes, thyroid, chronic asthma or COPD leave the clinic being 98 percent controlled in time. Lucky said those successes are because, unlike the medical model, patients "don't wait two hours to see a doctor for five minutes; they wait five minutes to see a doctor for 45 minutes because that's how much time we have to spend with our patients. We get them tuned up, we get them dialed in and they live healthier."

Lucky, who has a doctorate degree in nursing, believes in a holistic approach to health, focusing on preventative care with prescriptions being the last option. As he notes, "sometimes diet and exercise doesn't work even when the family and patient is fully cooperative."

Lucky is certain that his services will be more relevant with the implementation of Obamacare since health insurance premiums are expected to rise, not be lowered as candidate Barack Obama promised. If that happens, Lucky said the city could save money by sending employees to the nurse clinic "at a fraction of the cost."

The clinic is now offering -- and charging a fee for -- pre-employment physicals for Ceres Unified School District job applicants.

Lucky is also working with deWerk to explore the possibility of offering direct nursing services for city employees which would reduce premiums and lessen employee absence.
The program runs exclusively on private donations and will soon be seeking grants to expand.

Lucky said the clinic has a low budget and was able to operate for over a year on under $30,000. While "not one penny comes from taxpayer dollars," he told the council," he said the community directly benefits.