NurseAdvice line shutting down at end of year - Albuquerque Journal

NurseAdvice line shutting down at end of year

Medical assistant call screeners Daniella Gonzales and Susan Hobson with Karen Savage, RN, from left, answer phones at the NurseAdvice line on Tuesday. The Nurse Advice line, which has been providing free 24-hour medical advice in New Mexico for a decade, will be answering calls for the last time on Dec.31. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

The NurseAdvice line, which has been providing free 24-hour medical advice in New Mexico for a decade, will be answering calls for the last time on Dec 31.

A NurseAdvice line official on Tuesday said the loss of financial support from several insurers is the primary reason for closing down. About 41 employees are affected, said registered nurse and program director Connie Fiorenzio.

“We are just devastated; we are just sick about this,” said Fiorenzio of the imminent shutdown of the nonprofit organization, which was launched in 2006 with public and private funding. New Mexico is the only state with a 24/7 registered nurse call center that is free to all residents, whether insured or not. The state Health Department provides about 20 percent of the call center’s annual budget of $2.2 million. Salaries and benefits comprise 75 to 80 percent of that amount.

The first eight years of service, Lovelace Health System and Presbyterian Healthcare Services contracted with the organization to provide after-hours support for about 650,000 to 700,000 members in their insurance plans. Lovelace has since divested itself of its insurance business and Presbyterian has started a free nurse advice line available to Presbyterian Health Plan members, said Fiorenzio.

NurseAdvice has struggled to stay afloat by helping patients of rural healthcare practitioners and community health clinics around the state, said Fiorenzio. Insurer New Mexico Health Connections is a customer as is the health plan for employees of UNM. And the advice line partnered with a dispatch center to take non-emergency medical calls via phone rather than sending an ambulance.

While staff members have enjoyed working with a new crop of patients, the activity level isn’t sufficient to help the organization meet its financial obligations.

Other than an 11th hour reprieve from a wealthy benefactor or philanthropic organization, the public/privately funded service will end in a state where there is a shortage of health providers.

NurseAdvice has answered 1.5 million calls for assistance during the past 10 years. About 30 percent of the calls resulted in the client doing self-care at home rather than heading for a hospital emergency room or other provider. “A lot of the advice is educational in nature — like telling a new mom how to treat a child’s fever,” said Fiorenzio.

A study by a medical economist at UNM calculated that the advice line helped divert thousands of emergency room visits a year, she added. The study calculated annual savings of $4 million to $5 million to insurers.

As for NurseAdvice workforce, Fiorenzio said most are senior nurses with “tons of experience.” She added that many are reluctant to go back to a clinical settings “where they will have to pound the floors again.”

While the organization’s call center is located at the New Mexico Primary Care Association office in Albuquerque, 50 percent of staffers have enjoyed working remotely in places like Los Lunas and Ruidoso.


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