As far as nurse practitioner Dan Lucky is concerned, Ceres Police Department's unique and first in the nation nurse program is making a profound difference in the health of thousands.
The program was embraced by Ceres Chief of Police Art deWerk six years ago 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 throughout the county - including Turlock - and has expanded to a Thursday clinic held in Modesto.
"Many hundreds of lives have been saved," said Lucky, who made a brief report to the Ceres City Council on Feb. 11. He offered thanks to the council for endorsing the program back in 2006.
At the first health screening held at the flea market in Ceres in 2006, Lucky recalls a gentleman during a routine blood pressure check who proved to be suffering from an active myocardial infarction (heart attack). After a quick evaluation, Lucky called an ambulance which whisked the man to a hospital intensive care unit where he was treated and released days later. Mortality from myocardial infarction is significantly reduced if patients and bystanders recognize symptoms early, activate the emergency medical care, and thus shorten the time to receive life-saving treatment.
The area's poor are especially suffering from a lack of health-care access and often engage in some of the unhealthiest eating and lifestyle practices. For example, compared to other races and ethnic groups in California, Latinos have among the highest rates of obesity and one of the most severe consequences of obesity, type 2 diabetes. Nearly seven out of 10 California Latinos are overweight or obese according to the California Department of Health Services. This is due, some studies suggest, because of diets that contain higher fat content, sweetened beverages and low fruit and vegetable intake.
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 January 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. One girl undergoing a health screening showed a hemoglobin level of four - above 12 is the normal range - indicating she was suffering from severe anemia. When the girl was taken to the emergency room, doctors were amazed that she was conscious and walking. Her treatment consisted of several transfusions and she was discharged days later.
Another female patient being screened was suffering from active heatstroke.
"Every week we have an incident like this," said Lucky, "where if ... we weren't there somebody would be absolutely dead."
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."
Among those who help in the program are medical director Dr. Patrick N. Rhoades (also owner of Central Valley Pain Management). Others in the community which have financially assisted are Doctors Medical Center and Abrams College.
Supportive of the clinic has been Frank Johnson, president of the local NAACP chapter.
"We should not, as health-care providers, provide care unless that care is delivered in a cultural context," said Lucky. "If we do not put patients in cultural context, not only do we risk cultural injury, but we risk not affecting the best possible outcomes."
He noted, as an example, that asthma appears differently in African-Americans than in whites. They cough very little but experience an "intonation" in the voice.
Often there must be a different approach to Hispanics, he said. During a blood pressure screening offered at Cost Less Foods, of those who were told they had high blood pressure, 92 percent sought out a primary care provider. That's because they didn't just tell the patient but told the family who tackled it together. The Latino culture typically has strong family involvement, he said.
The clinic is now offering - and charging a fee for - pre-employment physicals for Ceres Unified School District job applicants. The fee charged per physical allows the clinic to accept 12 more patients.
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.
Doctors Medical Center has offered to chip in $1,200 per month for six months to help it run. Lucky, who founded Abrams College in Modesto in 1990 and is president, chipped in $25,000 in donated equipment.
Indiana State University, where Lucky received his schooling, is looking to model a program after the Ceres program, the first in the nation for a police department.