HAMPTON ROADS, Va. (WAVY) – The cost of unnecessary visits to the emergency room has doubled since 2010 to more than $8 billion in 2019, according to the Healthcare Financial Management Association.

But Sentara Healthcare has a plan to bring those costs down, one patient at a time.

One of those patients is Russell Tilley, who eight months ago found himself needing the services of the Union Mission in Norfolk. He is grateful for the help.

“I got a place to sleep, I got a place to live, three squares, square meals, can’t ask for any more,” Tilley said. “They showed me the way, because the booze wasn’t doing nothing for me.”

The Union Mission has helped Tilley stop drinking. He lost his wife three years ago, and he also lost his job as an electrician following a career-ending injury.

Getting healthy has been a journey for Tilley – one that used to lead to the emergency room. Enter Sentara Community Care, which is bringing basic medical services to underserved communities, including the Union Mission. A newly opened clinic is one of three such facilities in Hampton Roads providing care to more than 2,000 people since last August.

“It’s a lot more cost efficient to do what we’re doing here,” said the clinic’s executive medical director, Dr. Michael Charles, “to treat their blood pressure, keep them from having a stroke or an issue and having to go to the hospital.”

Sentara has noted another efficiency – fewer visits to the emergency room.

“So from 10 a month, down to two a month – an 80% reduction in ED (emergency room) transfers from the Union Mission since we opened the clinic,” Charles said.

Sentara said its community care team is also working on needs such as substance abuse, nutrition and mental health, and officials with the Union Mission are happy with the results so far.

“If we can treat their chronic diseases,” Charles said, “then they’re gonna be healthier, and that’s taking a burden off the health care system in the long-term. They’ll be fewer hospitalizations.”

Sentara is expanding this innovative model of care across Virginia. Clinics like the one at the Union Mission will soon offer services in Richmond, Petersburg, Harrisonburg, Danville and Newport News in the coming months.

“Just as your needs are unique to you and mine are to me, it takes everyone being able to meet people where they are and provide the level of care that they need,” said Union Mission Chief Operating Officer William Crawley.

Russell Tilley is just glad he can see a doctor for his routine medical care.

“Ever since I’ve been here, anything I want or I need or I feel,” Tilley said, “c’mon down, no problem, we’ll take good care of you.”