The funding may be drying up, but the need is not.
That’s why Wise County Community Health Center will soon become a subsidiary of Wise Regional Health System.
Last week, the board of directors of the North Texas Area Community Health Centers Inc. (NTACHC) – the organization that helped establish the tax-funded clinic on the west campus of WRHS in early 2012 – initiated the transition.
The clinic, which opened with mostly local funds in 2012, does get funding from the Health Resources and Services Administration, but it has not qualified for additional federal grants.
“It’s expensive to run those types of clinics,” said Martin Woodruff, executive director of the United Way of Wise County. “NTACHC has gotten to the point where they can’t keep this going. Fortunately, we have an organization that wants to adopt it, run with it and continue operating it.”
Wise Regional’s support, Woodruff noted, has been vital from the beginning.
The request must be approved by the HRSA, and many other details remain to be resolved. However, upon approval, it is anticipated that the clinic will be run as a branch of Wise Regional’s Clinical Care Associates (WCCA) possibly as soon as early August.
“Pending discussions, this is how the clinic will operate moving forward,” said Dr. Liz Trevi o, CEO of NTACHC. “There is strong commitment and possibility to operate the center with the same name and mission and also with extended hours.”
WRHS helped establish the clinic affiliate to provide “a wide range of services for the entire family” linked to the system’s network of physicians and specialists.
Proponents of the community health clinic contend that salvaging the center is imperative in order to provide care not just to all members of a family, but all families in the county.
“Wise Regional is a great hospital system,” said Woodruff. “It’s huge, with specialists of every kind. It’s fine for people who have insurance. If not, it’s very difficult to get in the door and get into the system.
“The community health clinic provides acceptable care and that needed medical home for the uninsured and underinsured population.”
The Wise County Health Forum identified the need for health care in underserved populations in 2005.
In 2009, with pledges from the United Way, organizers began discussions with NTACHC to address that need with a federally-qualified health center.
“NTACHC responded to our prayer,” Woodruff said. “United Way had began setting aside money to meet the need in the future if and when a program configured to run such a center came along. That was NTACHC.”
The organization opened the Decatur clinic and two others in Fort Worth. Those facilities received federal grant support, but the Wise County location did not.
“It was decided to open the center anyway with the hopes of getting local funds and program revenue,” Woodruff said.
Local donors did step up – WRHS donated space and utilities for the center and the United Way offered start-up funds – and the clinic opened in February 2012.
“People don’t want free health care. They just want access to basic health care they can afford,” Woodruff said.
“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve received calls from people without insurance in need of health care,” he added. “They ask where they can go – and before, we had nowhere to send them.
“A community health center is not perfect; it’s not going to meet everyone’s needs. But it’s at least a place to get started.”
And thanks to WRHS, a place that will keep going.
“Based on the number of users of the clinic, it is evident there is a community need, and we wish to continue to provide a way for the patients to gain access to services,” said Paul Aslin, chief operating officer of WCCA. “We plan to continue to offer a sliding scale and accept Medicaid as well as private insurance.”