CareNet: A decade of caring

Jan Ruma, executive director of Toledo/Lucas County Carenet.
Jan Ruma, executive director of Toledo/Lucas County Carenet.

Our nation is continuing to carry out the Affordable Care Act, and debating how best to provide basic health-care coverage to citizens. In the meantime, Toledo/Lucas County CareNet is celebrating its 10th anniversary of increasing local access to medical care.

Since it began on Jan. 15, 2003, CareNet has connected 25,000 low-income, uninsured residents of Lucas County with the care they need but cannot afford. These patients have benefited from more than 430,000 service deliveries: primary, emergency, outpatient, inpatient, and specialty care; prescription medication, and transportation.

The value of the services provided by our partners to CareNet members at no cost, or on a sliding fee scale, is conservatively estimated at $145 million.

In 2002, then-Toledo Mayor Jack Ford asked Mercy and ProMedica to develop and participate in a program that would address the growing problem of local residents who lacked health insurance. These providers created CareNet to increase access to coordinated health-care services for people who were falling through the cracks of existing coverage.

Today, CareNet partners with a broad range of providers that agree to make health-care services available to enrolled residents. CareNet has won local, state, and national awards by demonstrating the impact individuals and organizations can make when they work together to meet community needs.

CareNet’s board of directors includes representatives of our primary partners: ProMedica, Mercy, the city of Toledo, the Lucas County Board of Commissioners, United Way of Greater Toledo, the University of Toledo Medical Center, the Academy of Medicine of Toledo and Lucas County, the Neighborhood Health Association, the Dental Center of Northwest Ohio, and the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department.

In addition, 220 physicians volunteer their time to treat CareNet members, whether they have a suspicious lump, heart disease, diabetes, or another acute or chronic condition that requires expert care. The Toledo Area Regional Transportation Authority provides transportation to medical appointments when it’s needed.

Many CareNet members are considered “working poor.” Their household incomes are at or below the federal poverty line of $23,050 a year for a family of four. More than a third of CareNet members work at part-time, low-paying jobs at local stores, cleaning services, or restaurants. Many are unemployed for the first time in their lives because of Toledo’s difficult economy.

But no matter why they are uninsured, CareNet members have a doctor to turn to. Because CareNet members get the preventive care they need, they require fewer emergency-department visits and hospital inpatient stays. Most important, their health and well-being improve.

The demand for medical services is greater than it was a decade ago. The health-care environment is challenging and uncertain. But CareNet will continue to provide a forum for health-care providers to work together, one patient at a time.

Jan Ruma is executive director of Toledo/Lucas County CareNet.