Health outreach set for Liberty

January 21, 1994|By Jonathan Bor | Jonathan Bor,Staff Writer

Liberty Medical Center plans a $5.5 million Urban Medical Institute that would deploy health professionals and neighborhood residents to attack disease rates in West Baltimore that are among the state's highest.

The plan, announced yesterday, calls for a new outpatient center on the hospital's grounds off Liberty Heights Avenue and a renovated street-level clinic in nearby Sandtown-Winchester, where the housing stock is already the focus of a spirited revitalization campaign.

Both are scheduled for occupancy in June 1995.

But Everard O. Rutledge, Liberty's chief executive officer, preferred yesterday to talk about a new approach to health care rather than buildings. He said the hospital's mission is to cut health care costs and prevent hospital stays through early detection and treatment of disease -- and greater awareness of personal health and nutrition.

Speaking at a conference on urban medicine at the Sheraton Inner Harbor, Mr. Rutledge said the nation has failed to reduce the health problems of its urban poor despite rapid advances in technology and medical know-how.

"What we've done in the past hasn't worked," Mr. Rutledge said. "It has nothing to do with technology. We haven't touched the community appropriately. They haven't heard us."

The institute will concentrate on several areas -- including geriatrics, cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular and lung diseases, AIDS, drug addiction and nutrition. Plans also call for separate centers focusing on women's and men's health.

The outpatient facility will offer primary and specialty care. However, the Sandtown-Winchester clinic will concentrate on primary care.

Mr. Rutledge said the institute will hire and train neighborhood residents -- including recovering drug addicts and people infected with the AIDS virus -- to spread the word about disease prevention, nutrition and personal hygiene.

By its own admission, Liberty has tackled a tough task.

Its service area has one of the highest cancer death rates in Maryland, according to a hospital report. And compared with statewide averages, residents there are twice as likely to die of diabetes and cirrhosis, three times as likely to die of AIDS, seven times as likely to die of homicide and 10 times as likely to catch a sexually transmitted disease.

Liberty has claimed success on two fronts already. Recently, the hospital tested 390 men for prostate cancer through a program of free screenings, and flagged the warning signs of cancer in 10 percent. Severe diabetics attending an outpatient clinic are spending less time in the hospital with serious complications.

Funding for the Urban Medical Institute is being sought from both public and private sources. Last year, the state legislature approved a $1 million grant, and the hospital plans to seek an additional $2.5 million this year from the state. The remaining $2 million will come from private fund-raising as well as from city and federal grants, according to hospital officials.

Groundbreaking on the 40,000-square-foot outpatient center and the 10,000-square-foot Sandtown clinic is scheduled for this summer. Mr. Rutledge, however, said the hospital plans to begin some of its preventive health programs within a few weeks, using existing facilities.

Del. Howard "Pete" Rawlings, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said yesterday that the legislature approved the grant last year with the expectation that a second installment would come in 1994. Yesterday, he said he didn't see anything standing in the way of the $2.5 million.

"Liberty's in a community with substantial health care needs, and it has probably the highest proportion of Medicaid patients in the city," he said.

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