Health partnership in Kleberg County pays dividends in money, lives
Kleberg County has seen significant improvements in health care costs by collaborating with Texas A&M Healthy South Texas, a health improvement pilot program that focuses on preventive health.
In 2017, Kleberg County Judge Rudy Madrid and leadership from Healthy South Texas announced the collaboration, which provides diabetes education and medication assistance for residents of Kingsville and surrounding areas.
“Since then, we’ve saved more than $1.5 million in medical and brand-name prescription medication claims,” said Phil Esquivel, insurance broker for Kleberg County. Esquivel, who manages health insurance benefits for county employees, said medical claims for self-funded plans have dropped drastically for employees who have taken part in wellness activities provided by Healthy South Texas.
These services, which are housed at the Kleberg County Courthouse, provide resources and education to help residents in the area take control of their chronic conditions for a better quality of life and, while doing so, lower health care costs.
Nearly one in four people in South Texas has diabetes, putting them at high risk for numerous health issues, including heart attack, stroke, kidney failure, blindness, nerve damage and amputation of feet and legs. These complications often lead to costly emergency room visits, hospitalizations and medications, among other expenses. In Texas, the cost adds up to about $23.7 billion annually, both in excess medical expenditures and indirect costs, such as missing work, unemployment and reduced productivity.
Health services offered through the partnership
Healthy South Texas’ multidisciplinary team of health care professionals teaches practical approaches to preventing and managing diabetes through self-care. They work with individuals, their families and their primary care providers to develop individualized plans that help set achievable goals and milestones. All services are delivered free of charge, no insurance necessary.
The medication assistance program helps those without insurance, and those who have insurance but limited prescription coverage, navigate the various patient assistance programs available through pharmaceutical companies. While brand-name prescriptions for diabetes can cost into the thousands of dollars per month, community health workers with the program have helped people get them at no cost to them. But help is not limited to those with diabetes.
“We can help anyone who wants to prevent health issues related to poor lifestyle,” said Starr Flores, regional director of Healthy South Texas. “That is our goal: to help create a culture of health in our community so diseases like diabetes don’t even have a chance to develop.”
The diabetes program teaches healthy eating, regular physical activity, monitoring of blood sugar levels, managing stress and medication adherence, all of which is good for anyone, even if they don’t have diabetes. Medication assistance is available for nearly any disease state, including heart disease, respiratory illness, mental health, glaucoma and hepatitis C, among others.
Saving money, improving lives
“Working with Healthy South Texas has saved our families and taxpayers millions in health care costs,” said Kleberg County Judge Rudy Madrid. “But the lives we have impacted by promoting wellness is priceless.”
Juana Martinez, 55, is one Kingsville resident who has benefited from this unique collaboration.
“I was walking around the courthouse with my husband one day and saw the sign for diabetes classes, so I called, made an appointment and came in to see what it was all about,” Martinez said. “The nurse was super, super nice and didn’t make me feel bad for having high blood sugar. She said if I’m serious about my health, here’s what I have to do, and we laid out a plan. They even gave me walking shoes!”
When Martinez started the program in August 2018, her A1C (a measure of blood sugar) was 11 percent, which contributed to a heart attack at the age of 54 that required a triple bypass. Since her first visit with the diabetes care team at Healthy South Texas, her A1C has dropped to 7.5 percent, which is closer to the recommended level of 7 percent or less for someone with diabetes.
“Life goes by really fast. I don’t want to have my foot amputated or be on dialysis. I’ve seen that firsthand and I don’t want that for myself,” Martinez said. “I still have a ways to go, but I’m looking forward to a healthy retirement now that I know how to take better care of myself.”
Healthy South Texas is nationally recognized for its dedication to engaging with communities to improve public health, recently earning a spot as a finalist for the Harrison C. Spencer Award for Outstanding Community Service by the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health.
“I have a deep appreciation for the impact Healthy South Texas has had on our community,” Madrid said. “I am confident this collaboration will continue to improve the health and vitality of our residents and will serve as a model for the nation.”
To learn more about Healthy South Texas services in Kingsville and to schedule an appointment, call (361) 952-3596 or visit healthytexas.tamu.edu.