November 29, 2005
Free clinic joins health coalition
By SHAWN HOPKINS
Bulletin Staff Writer
The Free Clinic of Martinsville and Henry County soon will become a subsidiary of a local health coalition, which could mean needed financial support for the often cash-strapped organization.
Barbara Jackman, executive director of the Martinsville Henry County Coalition for Health and Wellness, said the East Church Street clinic will be under the umbrella of the coalition. The change had been discussed by the clinic's board of directors and coalition officials for several months, she said.
Clinic Executive Director Cathy Philbrook said the union is needed to move the clinic forward. "It's a good thing for the long run," she added.
The coalition is a non-profit organization that was started to meet goals identified in a 2003 Harvest Foundation study. It already has under its umbrella a Healthy Community Initiative program that provides educational programs in places such as local after-school programs and a MedAssist program to help patients get free drugs from drug companies.
There is no money from The Harvest Foundation, which primarily funds the coalition, involved in the merger at this time, Jackman said. But she said the partnership clearly fits within the mission of improving access to the underserved, which was why the coalition was organized.
"For new programs in the future, The Harvest Foundation would be one potential source that we could go to," she said.
Last April, the clinic had only a few dollars in the bank. After its needs were publicized, donations began coming in, including $25,000 from the Henry County Board of Supervisors and $5,000 from Martinsville City Council. It takes about $8,600 to run the clinic each month, officials have said.
The Harvest Foundation was created from the proceeds of the 2002 sale of Memorial Health Systems. When the clinic was virtually broke, the foundation was criticized at the time for not stepping up to help. The foundation had given the clinic a $22,000 grant in 2002 but later terminated it when the clinic board did not agree to a board development process, officials with both the foundation and the clinic said at the time.
"This is their stepping up" to help the clinic, Philbrook said Monday of The Harvest Foundation.
Tony Pratt, board chairman for the clinic, said its officials hope that by joining the coalition and taking advantage of the coalition's grant-writing expertise, the clinic will be better funded. It had 4,055 patients in September, the latest figure available Monday.
And although it is in good shape now because of local fund-raising efforts, the generosity of the community and belt-tightening, he said, the clinic could use the coalition's support and expertise in the time-consuming process of finding grants and researching and writing grant applications.
Jackman said that although the community has been generous, the need for health care programs such as the free clinic and the number of people using it will continue to increase as the need for health care increases. The grant-writing efforts will help ensure its long-term viability, she said.
"The more and the better we can work together the better able we'll be to not only find and achieve new funding sources, but also to do more with the monies that we have," she said.
The release said the alliance was recommended by a 2004 economic development study sponsored by the Harvest Foundation.
"The Harvest Foundation welcomes this affiliation of the free clinic and the Health and Wellness Coalition," said Douglas Payne, chairman of the Harvest Foundation. "This greatly expands the range of health care options available to citizens of Martinsville and Henry County."
Pratt said the clinic plans to use the coalition's expertise in general management, combining functions such as payroll and budgeting so the clinic staff can spend more time on patient care. The coalition will oversee the clinic's operations and administration, according to a press release.
Jackman said an advisory board, with some of the clinic board members, has been created to work with the coalition board on the operation.
Pratt also said joining with the coalition will give the free clinic access to its educational program and he hopes the clinic will be able to add programs and expand its office hours and services.
Pratt said one of the clinic's major goals is to offer extended hours and appointment times. Being able to see people at set times will allow the clinic to become patients' medical home, he said, and will help the clinic follow up and track patients.
Nurse practitioner Sandra Robertson has been hired and clinic hours may be expanded soon, Jackman said.
"We're hoping also we will be able to start recruiting from the medical community more and more volunteers as we establish a better continuity of care," Pratt said.
Jackman said the coalition will work to integrate its educational programs about topics such as living with chronic diseases like diabetes into the clinic's programs.
One of the major new programs planned, she said, is adding staff in the first quarter of next year who will serve as case management counselors, working with patients to help them access health care resources, find a medical home and get information to manage their chronic diseases.
The clinic is located at 926 E. Church St. According to the release, the clinic will remain at this site for the immediate future and continue to open on Tuesdays from 5:30 to 9 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. for now. The release said the clinic is studying a relocation.
"We're hoping that the union of the two agencies will actually allow the community to be much better served across the board," Pratt said. Becoming part of the coalition "is hopefully going to lead to a much stronger clinic and a healthier community."
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