U Care serves neglected population in Minnesota

by Lynne Kozarek

The billboards and bus signs advertising U Care have only been on display for a few months, but the University-run program has served the community’s less fortunate patients for more than a decade.
The University formed U Care Minnesota in 1984 to help low-income and special-needs patients, and to provide clinics with a program designed specifically to serve an often neglected population in Minnesota.
“We had problems with patients not showing up to appointments because they didn’t have a way to get there,” said Ghita Worcester, vice president of public affairs and development for U Care Minnesota. “They would go to the emergency room at night so they could get there in an ambulance.”
In response to that problem U Care created a program called Health Ride in which taxi cabs take patients to their clinics and back home again.
Patient membership in the U Care program has grown since 1985 to 57,423 in Minnesota. U Care contracts with 322 primary care clinics in 45 of Minnesota’s 87 counties. The program contracts with 8,000 specialists.
University Family Physicians Smiley’s Clinic is located on East Franklin Avenue on the West Bank. The clinic is a U Care participating provider, one of four in the University area.
Kathy Diamond, the clinic’s manager, said that Smiley’s attracts a very diverse clientele.
“We have a very multicultural and multi-ethnic patient base,” Diamond said, “and because we are a family practice, we treat everyone from infants to grandparents.”
Linda Zarns, nurse manager at the clinic, said that the clinic supports incentive programs for childhood immunizations and prenatal care.
“If pregnant women make it to every prenatal visit throughout their pregnancy,” Zarns said, “then they get gift certificates to Target.”
Smiley’s Clinic has posters and brochures crowding an area in the waiting room. The clinic offers signs printed in Spanish and brochures in Hmong because people who speak these languages make up a substantial part of the area’s population.
“We get everyone in here, from University professors to homeless people,” Diamond said.
U Care is a part of the Medical School’s family practice department and was originally funded by a departmental practice group. All of the funding for U Care is provided by the revenue of the family practice department, without additional state or University support.
Dr. William Jacott, chairman of the U Care Board of Directors, expressed pride in the services that U Care was providing. He said that the program was the only one of its kind in the country.
Jacott also said that he felt U Care would benefit from the Fairview-University merger.
“This provides an opportunity to develop our mission throughout Hennepin County,” Jacott said. “Our mission is to support family practice and research while serving an under-served population.”