Harvest supports Coalition/Clinic merger

November 30, 2005

Martinsville Bulletin Staff Writer

Besides a firm financial footing, the union of the Free Clinic of Martinsville and Henry County and the Martinsville Henry County Coalition for Health and Wellness will mean expanded services and programs for patients, according to officials with both groups.

The number one priority is extending the clinic's hours of operation and "discussions are currently under way. We hope to fine tune it a little this week and be open more often," said Cathy Philbrook, executive director of the clinic.

The two organizations announced Monday that the clinic will be under the umbrella of the coalition, after struggling with finances and staffing problems.

"We're really hoping the coalition will help us tap into some financing" in the form of grants and other options, Philbrook said. However, "we still need donations from the community because, at this point, we don't have any funds from the coalition" as the partnership gets off the ground.

But, she said, "we're on a solid financial base. We're not slipping on mud now. We're more financially stable" by joining the coalition.

For instance, the clinic received a $10,000 grant from Anthem insurance within the past month with the help of Barbara Jackman of the coalition, Jackman said.

Also, the coalition will help the clinic apply for a grant of state funds from the Virginia Association of Free Clinics this month, she said, adding that is typical of the type of help the coalition expects to bring to the clinic.

The union had been discussed for several months, according to local optometrist Grey Friedrichs, who serves on both boards and supported the union of the two organizations.

"I could see where the coalition was going and I could see what the clinic wanted to do for the community. (The two) seemed to fall in line," Friedrichs said. "It was a natural thing for them to join forces."

Implementing a full-time clinic schedule is the top goal, according to Friedrichs, Dr. David Lewis, medical director at the clinic, and Tony Pratt, its board chairman.

Full-time operations will mean "we can follow patients more closely" and during hours similar to those at regular doctors' offices, Pratt said.

The clinic currently is open 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Tuesdays and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays, but that may grow to full time in the next two weeks, according to Philbrook and Pratt.

Pratt said the coalition will take care of the "day-to-day business side" of operating the clinic.

Currently, the coalition is working to identify possible new sites for the clinic because of space constraints at the current location on East Church Street.

A new site would address parking needs as well as provide a "safe haven for patients while they're waiting," Pratt said, adding that patients often must wait outside the existing office in all types of weather, and regardless of health conditions, because of staffing and space constraints.

Ideally, a new facility would be conveniently located, Lewis said, adding that many residents expressed concerns about moving the clinic.

"They would like to see us remain centrally located. Personally, I would like to find a site that is conveniently located like the current site" but which offers room for expansion, Lewis said.

The partnership with the coalition also will mean more preventive medicine and added resources/treatment options for patients, especially for those with chronic conditions such as diabetes, hypertension and lung disorders, Pratt said. Many of those changes may be implemented within three to six months, he added.

The current schedule allows treatment of immediate health needs, "but if patients need follow-up care, we don't have a mechanism in place to make sure they get that," Pratt said. "We're hoping the expertise the coalition brings to the table will help us out" by allowing for more treatment options for patients as well as follow-up care.

Currently, the coalition operates a diabetes facility in Ridgeway, Pratt said, adding that clinic patients who suffer symptoms of diabetes could be referred to that facility for additional or follow-up care.

"It would be great to refer people to the diabetes clinic the coalition has," Friedrichs said, adding that he "would like a social services aspect integrated" into programs at the clinic to serve as an information and referral service and "help people get to the sources they need."

Lewis and Pratt also want a smoking-cessation program implemented and hope a program to address respiratory issues is added to the clinic's net of services.

Regardless of the changes or immediate benefits to the two organizations, "I think this (union) has worked out best for residents in the community," Lewis said.

Currently, volunteers are needed to work any shifts at the clinic, at the front desk, to register patients, man the phones and computer work, Philbrook said.

"If they could work even a few hours a week, it would really help," she said.

Medical doctors and specialists also are needed and Philbrook is confident a Neighborhood Assistance Program (NEP), which gives doctors credit on state tax returns in exchange for volunteer work, may attract additional physicians.

Philbrook said the coalition is working to beat a May 1 deadline to get the clinic approved in the NEP program and "we're hoping to get that kicked in for next year."

For additional information, call the clinic at 666-4081.


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