Christiana Care and Westside Wilmington Health Center leaders announced the establishment of a new family medicine residency training site that increases access to care and promotes continued support for underserved populations by medical providers in Delaware.
“This partnership helps advance Christiana Care’s commitment to identifying innovative ways to create value for our neighbors,” said Neil Jasani, M.D., MBA, FACEP, Christiana Care’s chief academic officer, chief learning officer and vice president of Medical Affairs, at a news conference August. “This partnership enables our physician residents to pursue meaningful careers in underserved communities. It will result in better physician-to-patient ratios and more access to care for our neighbors in Wilmington for years to come.”
The Christiana Care Family Medicine Center at Westside Family Healthcare is an innovative, first-of-its-kind partnership in Delaware that enables Christiana Care residents to perform their clinical rotations at Westside Family Healthcare, the largest nonprofit federally qualified health center in Delaware. The facility is designated an official community-based primary care residency training site by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education. It represents the latest milestone in physician education for Christiana Care, which has been involved in graduate medical education for more than 100 years and is the largest teaching hospital affiliated with Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University.
“This was a shared vision with Christiana Care, and it is really exciting to see it become a reality,” said Lolita A. Lopez, President and CEO of Westside Family Healthcare.
U.S. Sen. Chris Coons, who attended the event, praised Christiana Care for helping to create the partnership and thanked the residents for their commitment to the community. The News Journal, WHYY and WDDE (Delaware Public Media) covered the partnership announcement, which coincided with National Health Center Week, a national campaign that highlights the mission and accomplishments of community health centers such as Westside Family Healthcare. Community health centers collectively care for more than 25 million patients annually and save the health care system nearly $24 billion.
“When you have three dedicated residents, I believe it will change the lives of patients,” Sen. Coons said. “Thank you to Christiana Care and Westside for your leadership.”
Each year, Christiana Care has about 300 residents in its allopathic and osteopathic residency and fellowship programs.
“Residency programs merging with federally qualified health centers is relatively new in family medicine training,” said Erin Kavanaugh, M.D., program director for Christiana Care’s Family Medicine Residency and co-program director for its Emergency Medicine/Family Medicine Residency. “There is an absolute wave of people who want to work in federally qualified health care centers. People are coming in passionate about helping the people who need the most help. For us to officially be able to say that we can offer you a spot in this community is great.”
The affiliation will help fuel Christiana Care’s effort to transform health care in the city of Wilmington, she said. More residents being trained to work with low-income patients will translate to more providers within the health system who can share their expertise with community health.
For about eight years, Christiana Care residents have rotated into Westside Wilmington Health Center, whose mission is to offer equal access to quality health care regardless of ability to pay. Now, three residents each year will be assigned there full-time, one from each class. Every year, one will graduate, leaving a spot for a new resident.
Christiana Care currently has 29 residents in its program. The others practice at the Family Medicine Center at Foulk Road and the Wilmington Health Center. Regardless of where they are assigned, the residents take classes together, and the faculty are betting on an even more fertile cross-pollination of ideas from their diverse experience.
“We’re feeding the pipeline of the workforce to community health centers to get residents interested in this type of work,” said Lindsay Ashkenase, M.D., site director for the Family Medicine Center Residency.
Physicians trained in community health centers are more than three times as likely to work in a health center and more than twice as likely to work in an underserved area as those not trained at health centers, according to research from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), which is the primary federal agency charged with improving health and achieving health equity through access to quality services, a skilled health workforce and innovative programs. HRSA’s programs provide health care to people who are geographically isolated and economically or medically vulnerable.
“We strive for healthy neighborhoods — to look outside of the hospital and see what is keeping people from being healthy,” she said. “This is taking care of our neighbors and community. It’s the epitome of The Christiana Care Way, serving our neighbors as expert, caring partners in their health.”
The learning will go both ways, she said, as the partnership promotes a spirit of education at Westside. “Having residents here who are learning now keeps the rest of us up-to-date on requirements and techniques.”
The senior resident of this fledgling class is LeeAnn Tanaka, D.O. A member of the National Health Service Corps, the Hawaii native said she went to medical school for family medicine. She has committed to remaining in underserved communities following graduation.
“I might stay here,” she said. “It’s really a great experience. We see way more pediatrics and women’s health issues than you would see at the other sites. And the support system is phenomenal.”
The residents’ patients run the gamut of life — from prenatal consultations and pediatric well visits to care for older adults. That variety is one aspect that drew Dr. Tanaka to the assignment.
“It’s easier to see that breadth of patients as opposed to in a private practice,” she said.
The partnership has been years in the making, said Dr. Kavanaugh, attributing the seed of the idea to her predecessor, Lisa Maxwell, M.D. Gradually, the residency program has added faculty from Westside. This year, Westside received a grant enabling it to renovate its facility and add exam rooms.
“We finally had the faculty to support this. We got the accreditation. We were ready,” Dr. Kavanaugh said.
Jamie Gellock, D.O., MPH, graduated from Christiana Care’s residency program last year and now practices at Westside.
“When I accepted employment here, I knew this program would be developed,” Dr. Gellock said. “Westside has a very unique population. There’s very high poverty. We can attempt to expose the residents to education they wouldn’t necessarily get at other outpatient office sites. They’re going to see a wide range of patients. When they graduate, hopefully they’ll feel confident to do anything.”