At Penrose-St. Francis, they like to say they “celebrate the value of each person’s life.”

At UCHealth, they say they do things “differently,” and “promote individual and community health.”

But even as the city’s two major hospital systems expand to the east and to the north, their philosophy and their services don’t extend to the roughly 80,000 people in Southeast Colorado Springs.

And the same holds true for the city’s largest private practice physician groups. Mountain View Medical, DaVita Medical Group and others fail to have a presence in Southeast Colorado Springs.

Home to the most economically challenged section of the city, Southeast residentshave to drive (or find public transportation) to Penrose’s main hospital on Nevada Avenue or to UCHealth’s Memorial campus.

Hospitals and primary care clinics are following more than just the brand-new rooftops of El Paso County’s fast-growing northeastern suburbs. They’re following health insurance.

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It’s no secret that the folks in the Southeast have challenges: The graduation rate is lower; unemployment is higher. Insurance tends to be Medicaid or Medicare, and the coverage is thinner or nonexistent. As a result, the residents in 80916 and 80910 (roughly known as the Southeast) use emergency room care more frequently than anywhere else in the city — accessing health care at its most expensive.

Hospitals have business plans and models they follow. And both systems are dedicated to providing unreimbursed charity care to the city’s poorest residents. But the systems aren’t addressing the root problem of increased costs and uncompensated care: There are few, if any, primary care doctors in the city’s poorest areas and only one urgent care center for non-life-threatening care.Maybe Penrose could do open a clinic  at the Southeast YMCA on Jet Wing, just like it did in Monument, where people have more insurance options.

And the lack of health care services equals longer wait times, more blocked calls at 911 for non-emergency reasons and an increased burden on emergency rooms. That is, if patients can get to the hospitals in the first place.

Lower wealth combined with inadequate public transportation means few health care choices for residents in the Southeast. If it takes an hour to get to a primary care doctor — or even two hours — who accepts Medicaid, why not go to the emergency room to receive treatment and medications? If people can’t get to appointments, they’ll wait until the problem becomes a real emergency to seek help — and that also drives up the cost of care.

The short-sighted concept of following people with insurance leads to increased health care costs for all of us. Even the city’s safety net clinic, Peak Vista, can’t keep up with demand. And the Southeast’s other private clinic, run by Cory Arcarese, can’t meet the area’s needs without assistance from larger health care systems.

And even as nonprofits like Peak Vista and United Way try to fill gaps in care — the question remains: Are we putting facilities where they are most needed?

Or are we following profits at the expense of health?

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