Black physician in Akron offers concierge approach to health care – Akron Beacon Journal
When Janell Sellers of Wadsworth was looking for medical care for herself and her son, she couldn’t find a medical practice that could get them in regularly and provide consistent pricing without insurance.
Sellers, 38, lost her medical insurance several years ago after her husband died. She pays into a Christian-based health care-sharing organization. The plan helps for big things, but not visits to the doctor, she said.
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“One of my biggest frustrations was my kid is sick — and I want to take him somewhere — and just getting someone to agree to a price to see my sick kid was $100 just to get seen,” said Sellers. Prices would then go up, based on what care was needed.
Sellers, a part-time teacher, needed to know real prices so she could budget. She didn’t qualify for Medicaid and she has chosen to live on a strict budget so she can be with her 10-year-old son and not work full time.
Since about 2019, Sellers and her son have been patients of Dr. Leslee McElrath.
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McElrath, a board-certified family medicine physician, owns an independent practice called Monarch Ideal Care LLC. McElrath has office visits and prescribes and dispenses medications, if needed, or helps her patients find cheaper out-of-pocket alternatives for services.
In addition, McElrath offers nutrition and health coaching and partners with others to include services such as yoga, massage and mental-health sessions.
She operates using a concierge/direct primary care model.
She has two pricing structures: $85 a month, which includes evening and weekend availability to the doctor, two video psychotherapy visits per month for 12 months, a massage every three months, a monthly yoga group class and six-month nutrition and health coaching, among other perks. With this model, patients can use their traditional insurance to bill for basic medical care and lab costs. Visits are still subject to copays and deductibles.
For $125 a month, patients get enhanced services and unlimited access to the doctor — and no insurance is billed. There are also discounts for multiple family members.
Unlike traditional medical practices that bill exclusively through insurance or take private pay options, a concierge/direct care model pays the doctor directly for the services used.
In exchange, McElrath said she is able to be more directly involved in her patient’s care. All concierge/direct care models are slightly different, she said.
McElrath’s model gives patients access to an online portal to communicate with her and make their own appointments, often with same-day or next-day availability.
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According to a 2020 poll from NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, more than 1 in 5 wealthy people pay an extra fee for direct access to their doctor. For low- and middle-income people, the rates are less than half that.
But at McElrath’s practice, she sees patients of all socioeconomic backgrounds. For instance, Sellers said her monthly fee paid to the practice is cheaper than a traditional health care premium or her out-of-pocket costs when she was paying cash.
McElrath, 35, grew up in Cincinnati and wanted to be a doctor since she was 8, when she saw her Black pediatrician “and I wanted to be that person for someone.”
After finishing her medical training, McElrath knew her personality didn’t fit in with a corporate system. She trained in Dayton then worked for a private practice in Washington, D.C. but realized it wasn’t for her.
She came to Akron in 2018 on a temporary contract and fell in love with the area and the people. She set up her own practice, initially in Akron’s Merriman Valley and opened last September at her Fairlawn location near the Target at 2855 West Market St., Suite 204.
McElrath originally started with a direct primary care model to pay a monthly fee for her medical services. But she began accepting medical insurances and moved to the concierge model to offer more services after patient feedback.
McElrath generally sees patients ages 7 to 65. She doesn’t accept Medicare, but always intended on accepting Medicaid patients because she enjoys working with the Medicaid population and “you’re on Medicaid for a reason and that does not mean that you don’t deserve good care.”
Medicaid patients are the only ones who can see McElrath without paying the subscription fees.
But some Medicaid patients, like Anthea Morris, say it’s worth it to pay the $125 a month.
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Morris, a 30-year-old divorced mother of three in Hudson, works part-time as a nurse but does not get insurance through work. She qualified for Medicaid during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I was having trouble finding a doctor that I really resonated with that would actually take the time to listen to me,” said Morris. “I just loved her approach.”
“At the end of the day, it’s so much cheaper than having insurance and paying your copay. For $125 a month, you have essentially unlimited access to a doctor who knows you intently and is there basically at the click of a button,” said Morris.
Morris, who has been seeing McElrath for about six months, also wanted to see a physician she trusts if she no longer qualifies for Medicaid.
McElrath said it was important to find other business owners to partner with to holistically take care of a person. She specifically wanted to find a mental health counselor because she wanted to make it more affordable and accessible to people.
It was also important to McElrath to partner with mostly Black women-owned businesses. She also recently partnered with a Black male fitness trainer, who offers add-on services.
McElrath hopes being a Black physician helps break down some disparities or roadblocks in the Black community to seeing a doctor.
“I had one patient when I was training that told me she didn’t trust doctors unless they were old white men and she was an older Black lady,” said McElrath.
McElrath said she’s trying to break the fear and stigma of going to the doctor and what she calls the “paternalistic-ness” of doctors who say, “You should do this.”
“Let’s collaborate. Let’s work together to figure out what’s going to work best for you and the big thing is making people feel heard,” she said.
McElrath will refer patients to specialists, if needed.
Morris, who is Asian Indian, said she also likes seeing another minority professional “because sometimes I think I’m dismissed because I’m not white.”
McElrath said she knows her business model is not for everyone.
“For folks with new diagnoses or chronic issues that they want to talk about,” it may be a good model, she said. Similarly, “for some people, especially if they have a high deductible insurance plan, it makes more sense to just pay the $125 because not only are you getting all of your office visits covered, you’re getting the other stuff as well.”
McElrath meets with all potential patients in a free consultation to make sure both are comfortable.
Her goal is to grow her business; she has 65 patients now and would like 500. But she wants the practice to stay manageable so people can still have same-day or next-day availability.
She has a medical assistant who serves as the phlebotomist and practice manager, but McElrath does not have a nurse.
“I’m the one taking care of my patients,” she said. Every appointment is at least in a half-hour slot, with more time available, if needed.
McElrath said she wants to break the “fear of doctors” or waiting six weeks to see if something gets better.
“When you first hurt yourself, you can reach out to me,” she said. “I want to teach you how to take care of yourself.”
McElrath is hosting a free anniversary and wellness event 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sept. 17 fromat 8 Point Bistro, 1912 Buchholzer Blvd. in Akron, where she and her partners will be available.
To find out more about Monarch Ideal Care, go to www.monarchidealcare.com or call 234-281-4384.
Beacon Journal consumer columnist and medical reporter Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her @blinfisherABJ on Twitter or www.facebook.com/BettyLinFisherABJ and see all her stories at www.tinyurl.com/bettylinfisher
The Beacon Journal is profiling Black-owned businesses in Summit County. The Beacon Journal will continue to highlight minority-owned businesses as part of its ongoing regular coverage.
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