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U.S. Rep. Hillary Scholten sees pioneering teamwork by Exalta Health and UM Health-West, connecting uninsured patients with cardiovascular experts

Rep. Hillary Scholten toured Exalta Health in Grand Rapids and experienced a cardiovascular telemedicine visit with UM Health-West physician assistant Mark Wiles and Exalta clinic supervisor Andrea Cervantes. (March 14, 2023)

During a visit to the nonprofit Exalta Health clinic, U.S. Rep. Hillary Scholten saw how an innovative partnership with University of Michigan Health-West is overcoming socioeconomic barriers to fight heart disease.

By combining in-person care and remote technology, the partnership brings advanced cardiovascular expertise to patients where they are most comfortable, with familiar caregivers who speak their language.

“We were grateful the congresswoman could witness the teamwork that is advancing our vision of wellness for all people, regardless of their ZIP code, their income, or their socioeconomic background,” said Exalta Health President Ed Postma. “Without this partnership with UM Health-West, cardiovascular specialty care would be out of reach for many of our patients.”

The visit by Scholten, a former social worker, puts a spotlight on efforts to address the nation’s leading cause of death – heart disease – by expanding access to specialty care for groups facing higher risks. Multiple studies link socioeconomic status to heart disease.

Exalta’s staff and volunteers serve thousands of patients annually with primary care, dental services, behavioral health and spiritual support. Sixty-four percent of Exalta patients have no insurance, while 14% rely on Medicaid. Fifty-nine percent speak one of 18 languages other than English.

A UM Health-West physician assistant spends one shift per week at Exalta to flag patients with heart-related symptoms. When patients are referred to a cardiologist, a doctor at Exalta schedules an “advance televisit” with UM Health-West specialists using remote patient-monitoring technology, funded in-part by the UM Health-West Foundation. Patients remain at Exalta’s clinic while the specialist conducts a remote exam.

UM Health-West CEO Peter Hahn noted the partnership paid off immediately: At the first remote appointment, a UM Health-West cardiologist diagnosed an Exalta patient’s heart murmur.

“We’re seeing how the right technology, the right expertise and the right partnerships can be a lifeline,” Hahn said. “This is a win for the community and the patients we both serve.”

“The partnership is an example of how UM Health-West leverages advanced technology not for its own sake, but to enhance the provider-patient relationship and delivery of care,” said Josh Wilda, chief digital & information officer. “When that happens, we are truly meeting our vision: our innovations change care and care changes lives.”

L to R: Dr. Antonia Henry, UM Health-West and Exalta Health Board of Directors member; Josh Wilda, UM Health-West chief digital & information officer; Dr. Lance Owens, UM Health-West chief medical information officer; Rep. Hillary Scholten, D-Grand Rapids; Ed Postma, president of Exalta Health; Francisco Calderon, treasurer, Exalta Health Board of Directors. (March 13, 2023)