Free Care Clinic Faces Big Challenges
The Moore Free Care Clinic finds itself at a critical crossroads as new leadership takes over during a time of higher poverty and lower donations.
The poverty rate in Moore County more than doubled in just three years, from 7.7 percent to 18.9 percent, making it one of the five hardest-hit counties in the country with populations of 65,000 or more, according to Census Bureau numbers reported last month.
“I was shocked by the steep incline, partly because you don’t see it every day,” says Tony Price, a retired telecommunications executive who became the clinic’s CEO on Sept. 1. “I needed to see an article like that to get me grounded in terms of how big the problem really is in Moore County.”
Price, a clinic board member the past two years, replaces Mark Wethington, who co-founded the clinic in 2004 with Dr. David Bruton, a retired pediatrician and former state secretary of health and human services.
“It’s real easy to start something,” Bruton says. “It takes hard work and constant innovation to keep it going.”
The clinic provides high-quality primary, preventive and specialty care to limited-income Moore County residents who are uninsured and can’t afford access to health care.
“I know it’s a niche operation that can only take care of a limited number of people,” Bruton says. “But for those people, we’re providing a level of medical care that’s equal to anything you can buy in the community.”
The clinic has grown from the 800 square feet of space it initially occupied at the county health clinic in Carthage to the current 3,000 square feet in which it operates at the former Proctor-Silex building on Trimble Plant Road in Southern Pines.
Price, 57, is currently working with a local contractor to determine the cost of up-fitting an additional 1,000 square feet.
“The poverty level that Moore County is experiencing places more need to serve people that are uninsured,” he says. “Because we’re a Tier 3 county, we don’t get the grants and the funding to serve the uninsured. We have pockets of wealth in Moore County that skew our Tier results.”
For example, the clinic recently learned that it would not receive a $650,000 federal grant that would have allowed it to double its space, add employees and add Medicare and Medicaid patients, in addition to the uninsured.
“We had to reconstitute our strategic plan,” Price says. “We’ve had some very prolific givers over the years. We wouldn’t be here without them, so we’ll be fine and able to move forward. But we know we need funding long term.
“We’re totally dependent upon grants and private donations. I want to turn up the heat on giving, if I can.”
Price underscores the need by noting that the clinic has a patient base of more than 2,600 people, and more than 900 of them have been treated in the past 90 days.
“We have another 144 patients in the process of becoming eligible,” he says. “We’re adding 50 patients a month, and have distributed $1.5 million in medications so far this year.”
Wethington believes that Price’s business acumen will serve the clinic well, and Price balances the growing need with the shrinking budget.
“It was probably time to turn it over to a business mind,” says Wethington, a former senior pastor at Southern Pines United Methodist Church. “Mine was all about doing the mission. Tony has great gifts to carry the clinic to another level. I’m confident that will happen under his leadership.”
Wethington and his wife, Beth, plan to turn their attention to Warren County, the county in which they live and one of the poorest in the state.
“We’re going to mobilize the community to create a free clinic here,” he says. “The need up here has called us. Now is the right time for some new vision, both up here and down there.”
The Wethingtons also plan to continue their mission work in Peru, where they are currently helping to build a seminary in Lima.
“The work we’re doing in Latin America is important to us,” he says. “It’s hard to commit full time to both of them. It divides your energy and resources too much. But Beth and I are grateful for our time at the Moore Free Care Clinic and we will remain attached in some way.”
Bruton and his wife, Frieda, hosted the Wethingtons for three years as they commuted each week from Henrico to Southern Pines.
“Mark is a thoroughly Christian man, and driven to serve the less fortunate among us, as is Beth,” David Bruton says. “We will miss them dearly. On the other hand, I think Tony will bring strengths to the clinic that will be very helpful in these tough economic times.
“Donations are a little scarce, but we have ‘a little’ money in the bank. We’ll be all right.”
Contact Ted M. Natt Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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