Dr. Marc Berg brings a unique and critical perspective to the American healthcare system. Born and raised in the Netherlands, Berg is a European-trained physician and a former professor. After nearly 15 years as a healthcare consultant working to find better ways to deliver medical services in Europe and the U.S., Berg finally decided that the best way he could address patient needs was by founding his own clinic.
With Bluerock Care, Berg aims to create a better patient experience for older adults living east of the Anacostia River. Providers consider the total person, moving beyond the body to help the patient address lifestyle and health goals.
“What we’re doing –this kind of primary care –is and should be integrated with community support services, with social services,” Berg said. “It is not just about looking at somebody’s body. It’s always about the whole person. In our philosophy, that’s just incredibly important.”
Bluerock Care began offering virtual, telephone and at-home primary care services in May 2020. Berg expects to open the clinic location in fall of this year.
“Healthcare is Broken”
Berg has always had a passion for making healthcare a better interaction for both patients and providers. He trained as a doctor but realized early in his career that he wanted to work with the healthcare system and with providers to create and deliver a patient-centered healthcare experience.
After finishing his medical degree, Berg worked as a professor of health policy and management at the Erasmus School of Health Policy & Management in Rotterdam before shifting gears to consulting. For seven years, he worked with providers, insurance companies and hospitals in the Netherlands to better organize the provision of healthcare. In 2013, he came to Washington, DC to be closer to his wife’s family, continuing his work here.
In the United States, Berg found a healthcare system facing many challenges he had seen at home, but with an extra layer. Whereas most European countries have universal healthcare systems, providing all residents with equal access regardless of ability to pay, the high cost of American medical care creates an additional barrier for many patients.
About a year ago, Berg decided that rather than helping other providers implement his ideas, he would start incorporating those lessons into practice himself. That was the genesis of Bluerock Care.
Berg wanted his ideas to have the greatest impact possible. He knew that the area with the largest gaps in healthcare infrastructure and so most in need of strength and innovation was in Wards 7 and 8.
“The need of the people there is the highest, the challenges to getting good healthcare is the highest, and the inequalities of the impact of poor healthcare and other factors like access to fresh food all come together. It just felt like the best possible place to start doing something like this,” he said.
Berg started talking with members of the community, working with Grapevine Health founder and Former Medicaid Chief Medical Officer Lisa Fitzpatrick. The team worked to get a sense of the needs in the community and what could be learned from what was going on in the community already to inform the opening of Bluerock Care.
A Patient-Centered Experience
Bluerock Care aims to offer easily accessible healthcare, with a focus on providing mature patients with a unique, patient-centered experience. They do this by providing multiple access points for care, working to address all the patient’s health needs, and providing guidance through the mire of referrals and insurance that often confuse and encumber patients.
There are two reasons for a focus on older patients, Berg said. First, elderly patients often need more than one type of care. Often, patients are left to co-ordinate their own care and find their own providers.
“It’s incredibly confusing to even know where you should go, who does what, how to get the right kind of insurance –everything is confusing,” Berg said. “For some elderly people, that’s just an impossible task.”
Second, while there are several healthcare centers offering service to those on Medicaid, there is not a great deal of infrastructure east of the river for people on Medicare, Berg said.
“This is also a group that needs specific attention the most, that really need a longer-term focus on managing chronic conditions,” he said. “That just wasn’t there.”
The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the agency of the federal government that pays for Medicare, has selected Bluerock Care to be part of an innovation that allows providers to invest in population health, working with community organizations to focus on prevention and keeping people healthy, as opposed to treatment.
One way that Bluerock invests is by forming a long-term relationship with patients. They proactively work with patients to help them manage their health and meet clearly defined goals. Communication is key to successful care, Berg said, with providers engaging in frequent ‘touchpoint’ contact with patients. These services add clarity to the patient experience. They also help in a system of wholistic treatment, with providers acting as a center to co-ordinate patient care with specialists and therapists.
Access is key at Bluerock, Berg said. Even after the office opens on Pennsylvania Avenue SE later this year, virtual, telephone and at-home services will be offered, as well as transportation to and from the clinic when necessary. “We believe that if you combine technology with office visits, you are able to build up a much better relationship with patients,” Berg said.
Understanding the needs of patients and the context of their communities is critically important to providing healthcare to the elders in the community, Berg said. Older adults deserve care that is easy to access, that is really well-organized and provides good outcomes. They should feel taken care of, the doctor added.
“Too many people just don’t experience their care that way, and that is why we’re doing this,” Berg said. “We really intend to be very different in terms of the experience, and how we approach care.”
Bluerock Care will open its first center later this year on Pennsylvania Avenue in Ward 7. During the public health emergency, they provide full primary care services through video and phone consultations as well as home visits, also serving Medicaid-only patients. Seniors and caregivers living east of the river in DC can arrange a home visit or a phone or video appointment with a doctor by calling or texting (202) 796-9775 or e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Learn more by visiting www.bluerock.care