Company Helps Seniors in ‘Health Care Deserts’ Age in Place

For many seniors, securing access to health care services can be a challenge to aging in place. But for those who live in so-called health care deserts, the situation is especially dire.

That’s why one organization based in Chicago has made it its mission to provide health care options to seniors in various ‘health care deserts’—areas marked by a lack of health care resources—across the Midwest.

Oak Street Health, which was founded in 2012 and started seeing patients in 2013,* is a network of primary care doctor’s offices specializing in health care for older adults with the underlying goal to help seniors age in place, regardless of which neighborhood they may live in. Oak Street Health currently has 20 locations around the Midwest and has served 30,000 patients since its inception.

To support its aging-in-place mission, the organization has partnered with the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) to bring awareness of its services to seniors living in CHA-run housing throughout Chicago, John Woolley, senior vice president of growth and business development at Oak Street, told Home Health Care News.

The Partnership 

Because Oak Street Health is not a home health provider itself, the organization works with CHA to bring awareness of its health centers to Medicare patients in various neighborhoods. Its centers provide those seniors interested in the program with transportation options to and from medical appointments. There are currently 12 Oak Street Health locations in the Chicagoland area.

In addition to connecting with new patients through the partnership, Oak Street community engagement teams visit CHA buildings to educate residents.

“We go to the CHA facilities to provide educational seminars on topics like diabetes care and heart health to seniors living there,” Woolley said. “One of CHA’s biggest goals is to help people age in place. We work together with them to provide great health care in areas where there isn’t great access to care, in terms of location of appointment availability.”

To ensure there are available appointments for patients, Oak Street reserves space in its doctors’ schedules for same-day or next-day appointments, Woolley added.

Larger Mission

Though Oak Street’s partnership with CHA only operates in the Chicagoland area, the organization has various other clinic locations around the Midwest. In addition to the dozen locations in the Chicagoland area, there are two in Northwest Indiana, three in Indianapolis, one in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and two in Detroit.

Aside from Oak Street specializing in working with Medicare patients and providing them primary care, it offers pharmacy services** at many of its locations as well.

More recently, Oak Street began a rollout for a behavioral health component in its clinics, Woolley explained.

“We have a large number of people who would like help with behavioral health,” he said. “In Chicago in particular, it’s very difficult to get access to psychiatrists and counseling. We are working with a psychiatrist and social workers to have an on-site program so a patient doesn’t have to drive up to Winnetka, Illinois, to receive mental health treatment.”

Another, newer concept Oak Street has implemented includes sending nurses and social workers into patients’ homes following a discharge from a hospital.

“They are more there just to help with the transition and the coordination of care with home health workers,” said Woolley.

At this time, Oak Street is not partnered with any specific home health agencies, as it works with the provider the patient is most comfortable with. Though, the organization would be open to partnering with home health agencies in the future, Woolley added.

Oak Street Health plans to continue its expansion around the Midwest, though the provider did not disclose any new locations to HHCN.

“Nine out of 10 patients recommend us, but there is still a lot to be done,” he said. “We are just scratching the surface for a population of patients that has been underserved.”

Written by Alana Stramowski

*Correction: This article has been updated from a previous version that stated the company was founded in 2014.

**Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Oak Street provides dental care. It provides pharmacy, podiatry, and behavioral health.

Alana Stramowski