Around this time each year, the federal government releases some key data for the previous year. We have been crunching numbers, and were surprised by what the data show. At the end of 2017, we at Neighborhood Health served 15,800 uninsured patients for the year. By the end of 2018, we had served 17,200 uninsured patients – and we did this with no increase in our federal funding. (Our own data show that trend has continued through 2019.) That is impressive – and on mission.
Several factors caused our number of uninsured patients to grow. First, the threatened closure of the safety net Nashville General Hospital in late 2017 led some providers there to depart – leaving uninsured patients unable to get care. Second, another community health center in Antioch, ProHealth, abruptly closed in late 2018 – leaving its uninsured patients with few options. Third, TennCare enrollment among our patients (and statewide) fell by 15% over 18 months, but these patients continue to come for us for care. At the same time, we began to care for a surge of patients with high deductible health plans who are only nominally insured. Indeed, we saw and are seeing many more uninsured folks and more folks who have less and less coverage if they have any at all.
Here is the most important reason our number of uninsured patients went up: Neighborhood Health kept our doors open to all new patients (regardless of their insurance status) throughout. This was a unique response. The federal data show that no other provider in our area has Neighborhood Health’s record or comes close to our response. Indeed, most safety net providers in our area saw fewer uninsured patients in 2018 compared to 2017. Even when we control for our much larger size relative to other health centers, Neighborhood Health had a proportionally larger increase in uninsured patients.
All of this reflects a special sense of responsibility for us at Neighborhood Health. We appear to have become the largest private provider of primary care in Middle Tennessee – and the largest provider for persons of color. So many now depend on us, and we take that trust seriously.
Despite the lack of new federal and state funding, individual employees at Neighborhood Health found innovative ways in 2019 to serve more patients while also saving money. Through these efforts, we served 1,700 additional patients (including 1,400 additional uninsured patients) in 2019 with roughly the same federal resources. This is an incredible accomplishment, one that greatly advanced our mission to serve Middle Tennesseans.