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A Stronger Safety Net

Posted on May 20, 2016 by gschaywood

A stronger safety net

New clinic will offer more options to the uninsured

By Vicki Hyatt | May 18, 2016

The newest health care provider in Haywood County will be dedicated to helping those who have struggled to get and pay for medical care.

Haywood Health Center will open June 1 at 34 Sims Circle, Waynesville, the site of the Good Samaritan Clinic.

Most of the clinic staff will become part of the new operation being set up by Blue Ridge Community Health Services, which provides medical, dental and mental health services at 13 locations throughout western North Carolina.  Plans call for a pharmacy to be added at a later date.

Donda Bennett, the executive director of the Good Samaritan Clinic, said the new partnership was two years in the making and should give those with limited resources greater access to care.

“We’re drowning,” said Bennett of the current clinic, which is a safety net healthcare provider in Haywood. “It is all we can do to take care of the patients we already have. There is nothing more heart wrenching than to listen to someone with problems and then tell them we can’t help.”

At the end of 2015, the Good Samaritan Clinic finally got caught up on its 200-person waiting list, but now, just five months later, the waiting list has grown to 300. With the limited resources and staff, the clinic is hard-pressed to manage the 1,500 patient load, Bennett said. “This will allow us to sustain ourselves long term,” she said of the new arrangement. “The access issue has just overwhelmed us.”

What’s new?

By joining an organization broadly referred to as a federally qualified health center, there will be more access to financial resources — and staff.

Milton Butterworth, the chief development officer at Blue Ridge Community Health Services, estimates the patient capacity in Haywood could reach more than 4,000 within a year.

The purpose of federally qualified health centers (FQHC) is to help

improve access to health care across the country regardless of insurance status or ability to pay. A sliding fee discount system is available for those with limited resources. The centers — more than 1,200 across the nation — receive enhanced reimbursement under Medicaid and Medicare, along with federal grants to offset some of the cost of uncompensated care.

“This really builds a nice foundation for sustainability for a community trying to improve the healthcare safety net,” Butterworth said, praising the Good Samaritan Clinic for the impressive work it has been able to do through the years. “They reached out to us as they looked at long-term sustainability, or even becoming a FQHC themselves. We  really pride ourselves in having conversations in many communities around us to explore ways to expand the safety net.”

The new arrangement that formed Haywood Health Center happened in a very deliberate and community oriented way, Butterworth said, and community partnerships will be stressed as the program grows.

“As we work with new partners and in Haywood County, we’ll be looking to improve access to care,” Butterworth said. “The biggest challenge is how to increase awareness of people who haven’t had good access to care and who only go to the doctor when they are really, really sick. We need to get the word out that they now have a better option.”

More resources

When the Haywood’s Health Center opens its doors on June 1, existing patients aren’t likely to notice many changes other than a new sign, Butterworth said. Patients will likely see their same providers at the same clinic site and will be escorted to the Good Samaritan Clinic next door where their cases will be managed to address other needs such as nutrition counseling, medication assistance, spiritual help or basic needs such as food, heat or transportation.

As new patients are added, up to three new support staff will join Haywood Health Center. The Good Samaritan Clinic will be operated by a part-time executive director, a full time staffer and a host of community volunteers, who will be operating in the building where the Good Sam Clinic first started.

Bennett will become the new clinic’s practice manager and Carmine Rocco, the retired Haywood County health director, will serve as the Good Samaritan Clinic’s part-time director, as well as Haywood’s representative on the Blue Ridge Community Health Services board of directors.

“When you look at a person, they have basic needs, spiritual needs and medical needs,” Rocco said. “We are here to treat the whole person.”

Case management

Bennett said 85 percent of the clinic’s current patients have chronic illnesses they need to manage. Others need help with utility bills, getting prescribed medications or just need someone to pray with. That’s the type of help that will continue through the Good Samaritan portion of the partnership.

“Unfortunately, a patient visit is not just a patient visit,” Bennett said. “There is a lot that goes on behind the scenes to help patients receive wrap-around services. We deal with so many things on the back end of patient care helping them get transportation, heating resources, get an X-ray, or helping them fill out a care assistance form.”

 

As the providers see more and more patients, it leaves less time to deal with the after care, which is why the Good Samaritan Clinic will need more community support than ever before.

It is estimated the clinic’s budget will fall from its current $360,000 to about $100,000, Bennett said. Community volunteers — and community support — will be more important than ever as Good Samaritan moves forward, she added.

Ministry aspect

When the Good Samaritan Clinic was first established with the help of key churches in the community, its focus wasn’t just on medical needs. It was just like the Bible’s parable of the good Samaritan, who not only tended the wounds of the man on the roadside, but brought him to an inn, asked the innkeeper to care for him and promised to return to pay for any costs that weren’t covered.

“The reason it is important for Good Samaritan to continue is its focus on the ministry,” Bennett said. “We want to continue that one-on-one love of our patients because we see that is really the key to our success. It is caring and compassion.”  Bennett said healthcare is moving to a structure where patients are in and out so quickly they can’t even remember if their provider was wearing glasses.  “We want our uninsured patients to feel everything has been addressed when they come to us to complete their visit,” she said.

Help from Haywood Regional

A crucial part of the federally qualified health centers’ success is working with other medical providers in the region, and Haywood Regional Medical Center is a key partner for the Haywood Health Center.

Tara Sund, senior director of business development and physician relations at Haywood Regional Medical Center, said the hospital is providing a grant to offset the clinic costs on an as-needed draw basis as it gets its start. The hospital will also be working with the clinic’s patients when it comes to lab and radiology needs, as well as inpatient care.

“We’re trying to open up access for the uninsured, which will hopefully allow them to have a primary care provider to guide them and that will reduce emergency room care,” Sund said.

Haywood Regional’s benefit grant is not a specific amount, but promised funding to offset operations for first few years which can be tapped into if needed, Sund said.

“Without a community health center, uninsured Haywood County residents are left with very few options outside of using the emergency room for non-emergent conditions,”  Harold Sigler, HRMC interim chief executive officer said in a news release. “We’re proud to partner with BRCHS on this project because we’re certain our investment will result in a healthier Haywood County.”

Bennett praised Duke LifePoint’s commitment to helping throughout the process of finding a sustainable direction for the Good Samaritan Clinic.

“It wasn’t just locally, but from Nashville,” Bennett said. “I was super-impressed that they flew in for a meeting four or five times to be sure we had what we needed.”

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