Medical house call program shines light on needs of senior population

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Dr. Nikolaos Migias, medical director of the Essen House Calls Program, visits a patient at her home.
Photos courtesy Essen Health

Every morning, an army of cars line up on Halperin Avenue in the Bronx. Like clockwork, a steady stream of doctors, with medical bags in hand, come out of the 2641 address and jump into the awaiting cars.

They are off into the neighborhood for a day of “house calls” for the underserved in the area. The program, “Essen House Calls,” ran by Essen Health Care, the largest health care provider in NYC, saves lives by bringing the doctor’s office to homebound patients that are 21 and over. Many of these patients are at their homes with poor access to health care, may live alone or are unable to leave their setting. And in many cases, they get most of their care in the emergency room, which puts them at risk and is an enormous strain on the health care system.

With this program, patients can schedule most visits within 24-48 hours and will receive the same high-quality, comprehensive services that you would normally seek in a primary care physician’s office, including routine care, immunizations, prescriptions, physical therapy, chronic disease management, x-rays, etc.

Dr. Sumir Sahgal, founder and chief medical officer at Essen, told the Bronx Times that in 2005 five of their patients were found dead at home. Knowing these patients lived alone, he began to wonder how many seniors under Essen’s care were not seeing a doctor every three to six months. After doing some research, he discovered that 80 patients had been missing appointments frequently. As a result, Essen House Calls was launched that year.

“This is the invisible population in this country,” he said about seniors. “Our model is we bring the doctor’s office to you.”

According to Sahgal, he was surprised so many people had not been seen by doctors and what made matters worse is that many of the patients lacked food and weren’t taking medication.

“They depend on everybody else for help,” Sahgal said. “This is the Bronx; a lot of people live alone and don’t have families. A lot of them don’t have connection to kids.”

Sahgal said since the launch of the program 16 years ago it has had a tremendous impact on the senior population in the borough. Essen hired someone who sets up the home visits and the staff is now more attune to the needs of their patients.

Today, Essen has 13,000 patients in the Bronx House Calls program, which began in 2005.

Additionally, the doctors are in constant communication with the families of the patients. Eventually, word spread, and the program garnered quite a reputation. Today, Essen has 13,000 patients in the Bronx House Calls program and 440 who are centenarians.

“Every year we start getting more people who want them to do house calls,” the doctor said.

At the house calls doctors check blood pressure, weight, draw blood, take x-rays, sonograms and, if needed, arrange for the patient to see a specialist.

Sahgal said the program has saved countless lives and improved the health of many. Essen House Calls has been quite impactful during the pandemic, as the medical staff has helped patients get tested and acquire any medicine they needed.

“It’s an honor to go to their home and take care of them,” he said. “We want to change the way health is delivered.”

Reach Jason Cohen at jcohen@schnepsmedia.com or (718) 260-4598. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes. 

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