FirstHealth, Free Care Clinic Work to Together to Help Uninsured
BY BRENDA BOUSER
FirstHealth of the Carolinas
Last year, FirstHealth of the Carolinas and the Moore Free Care Clinic learned they and three other community partners had been approved for a grant from the N.C. Triangle Affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure.
The more than $68,000 in funding would allow the group to cooperate in a program offering free screening mammograms to low-income Moore County residents.
The Komen grant application - which also involved Pinehurst Radiology Associates, the Moore County Department of Social Services and the Moore County Health Department - was just the latest in a series of FirstHealth and Moore Free Care Clinic partnerships aimed at providing health care to some of the area's most vulnerable residents.
In the eight years since its founding in 2004, the Moore Free Care Clinic has developed a mutually beneficial relationship with FirstHealth that has served the 3,100 residents of Moore County - 900 currently active - who at one time or another have considered the not-for-profit provider of basic health care their medical home.
According to Tony Price, the retired Verizon Commu-nications executive who became the clinic's chief executive officer in 2011, 15,000 Moore County residents are uninsured and therefore underserved.
"And we only touch a fraction of them," he says.
Because of a need that has grown with an economy in recession, Price expects the FirstHealth-Free Care Clinic relationship to "continue and flourish."
Dr. Dan Barnes, agrees.
As president of the FirstHealth Physician Group, Barnes is the physician executive in charge of all of the providers (physicians, physician assistants and nurse practitioners) directly employed by FirstHealth. He also serves as medical director of the FirstHealth Hospitalist Service, the program that coordinates inpatient care for the three FirstHealth hospitals.
"We believe in the mission of the Moore Free Care Clinic," he says. "The service it provides is much needed."
According to Barnes, the FirstHealth-Free Care Clinic relationship is based on "tiered goals" designed to give low-income patients "the right level of care in the right setting." That relationship usually begins when an uninsured patient shows up at Moore Regional Hospital's emergency department seeking care for a condition that might have been treated sooner - and at less cost - in a primary care setting.
The patient is treated for the problem and then referred to the Free Care Clinic for a same-day or day-after follow-up appointment.
With the second-tier goal, a patient being released from Moore Regional after a hospital stay is also referred to the Free Care Clinic, this time for post-discharge follow-up. According to Barnes, the target timing for these appointments is 10 days or better.
"We have been able to meet that expectation," he says.
Price calls this patient referral program "the real clinical relationship we have with FirstHealth." Dr. Barnes sees it as "part of the transition-of-care model that we need to have a medical home for patients without insurance."
"FirstHealth and the Free Care Clinic do a very good job of caring for these patients," he adds.
In addition to the successful referral partnership, FirstHealth also makes an annual financial contribution to the Free Care Clinic budget and encourages its employees to volunteer with the organization. Their work supplements the services of the clinic's paid professional staff: a full-time registered nurse, two part-time registered nurses, and a bilingual patient coordinator who are supervised by Deborah Bateman, nurse practitioner and clinic director.
FirstHealth-affiliated practitioners also assist with the Free Care Clinic's mission. Dr. Fabian Rodriguez, a specialist in internal medicine with Pinehurst Medical Clinic, serves as medical director, and six Pinehurst Medical Clinic physicians rotate coverage for the extended hours that the clinic offers every Tuesday.
Free Care Clinic patients also benefit from several other FirstHealth-affiliated services (including the FirstHealth Back and Neck Pain Center and Pinehurst Radiology) that are offered at a financial discount based on the patient's income.
In their ongoing effort to enhance Free Care Clinic services and FirstHealth's role in the program, Barnes and Price meet monthly to discuss the relationship as well as new ways of meeting patient needs. According to Price, Free Care Clinic patients often have multiple issues, and many are addressed by such FirstHealth services as medication assistance and quit-tobacco, and healthy eating programs.
"Patients don't come here because they have a cold," Price says. "They have diabetes, hypertension, sometimes mental health issues. We offer more than primary care. Here, we do other things that give a holistic approach to medicine."
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