- Associated Press - Saturday, February 14, 2015

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (AP) - Patients waiting for care Wednesday in the recently remodeled Wabash Valley Health Center illustrate the center’s still-new status.

Some patients were uninsured. Others had insurance - Medicare, Medicaid or a private insurance provider.

No longer existing only as a free clinic for low-income people without health or dental insurance, the center has transitioned into a federally qualified health center open to all.

“We’re here to serve,” Charles Welker, chief executive officer, told the Tribune-Star (https://bit.ly/1AwUxEs). “We focus on those folks that are living without access to comprehensive health care and who are challenged by the barrier of affordability. That’s our primary focus as a federally qualified health center.”

But a lot has changed in the past year as the clinic transitioned away from its original identity as the St. Ann Medical Center, which opened in 1997, and from the added identity of St. Ann Dental Services, which opened in 2005.

Both medical and dental services are still provided, but patients can no longer walk in for same-day service unless it is an emergent need. Appointments must be scheduled. The clinic also has expanded hours of 7:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. on Mondays, and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays.

Expansion of staff is also a big change.

“That’s really for me, the heart and soul,” Welker said. “We have a team that’s fully invested and committed to the mission. They understand the impact they have in people’s lives.”

The staff numbers 31 professionals. Volunteers are also an important core group, helping with clerical support and other needs.

“We have been blessed to put a team together that is committed to our mission,” Welker said.

The clinic’s board of directors has also been important players into the transition to a federally qualified health clinic, he said.

For 17 years, the St. Ann Medical Clinic was known as a place for compassionate care of uninsured people with medical issues. It was founded as a ministry by the Sisters of Providence. With the transition, however, that relationship is changing. But, the same care and compassion exists among the staff, and it is now offered to patients of all ages and incomes, with financial assistance available to those who qualify, Welker said.

Only 58 percent of the clinic’s budget is covered by the federal grant, he said. The other 42 percent comes from other funding, such as community grants and donations from businesses, organizations and individuals. A portion also comes from patient revenue and insurance. Welker said the clinic is grateful to private donors, foundations and community partners who help make up the funding gap of 42 percent.

But more funding is needed.

About 73 percent of the patients at the clinic are uninsured or self-pay. Even though the federal Affordable Care Act mandates that people apply for health care coverage, it is still a by-choice program, and some people choose not to seek coverage. Now, the clinic staff works with uninsured people to help them get medical coverage, but no one can be forced to seek coverage.

There are barriers to affordability of coverage - such as homelessness and unemployment, mental illness or general poor health. Some people still fall through the cracks of getting medical coverage. For instance, a person who does not file a federal income tax return will not be eligible for public assistance.

It is staggering the number of people who are still uninsured, despite the federal health care mandate.

“We take our responsibility very seriously, to fulfill the mission to serve folks who are challenged by the barrier of affordability,” Welker said. “We will continue to fulfill that as challenging as it is financially.”

In some cases, a person may not have seen a dentist for 10 years or more, and may present with a multitude of dental issues. In many cases, patients may have complex medical and dental situations.

Another service of the clinic is its outreach to help people sign up for services and insurance. Many low-income patients may not have access to computers or the Internet to apply for health care.

Welker points out that the open enrollment period for Hoosiers to sign up for the 2015 Health Insurance Marketplaces is Sunday. That is why it is important, he said, for Hoosiers without coverage to go online to www.healthcare.gov before the deadline. Those who are intimidated by the process can contact the local clinic for assistance.

During its years in the Ryves neighborhood, the clinic has been a much-appreciated fixture by the community.

Welker said that the facility at 14th and Locust streets has no security or safety issues.

“This community here welcomes us and looks out for us,” he said. “They understand the benefit of us being here.”

In fact, the clinic is gearing up to promote its services to the pediatric population of the community.

In the past, the clinic was limited to clients age 18 to 64. But that limit no longer exists. Children can be seen as patients.

“We are seeing a few children already,” he said, “but we are getting ready to roll out the pediatric program. We have ordered immunizations as another part of our transition to a clinic for all people.”

The facility, which was remodeled in 2014 to have improved client services areas, includes a medical clinic with 10 examination rooms, four dental rooms, medication assistance, an athletic training area, behavioral health area, and outreach and enrollment. Athletic training students from Indiana State University assist in the athletic training area. Hamilton Center assists in the behavioral health area.

“We do think of ourselves as a teaching facility as well, and we are committed to that,” Welker said.


Information from: Tribune-Star, https://www.tribstar.com

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