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Networks of care

"Networks of care" Continued...

Issue: "Dead heat," Sept. 22, 2012

Another example: Dispensary of Hope, founded in 2007 in Tennessee, now has 80 network dispensaries in 15 states and is licensed in 11 more. This Nashville-based nonprofit has a Christian mission to provide medications to the indigent and uninsured. It receives donations from manufacturers and unexpired samples from 1,300 doctor's offices. Dispensary of Hope then distributes the medications to its network of nonprofit clinic dispensaries and community pharmacies, which then give needy patients immediate short-term help. Dispensary of Hope also helps those patients enroll in long-term prescription plans run by pharmaceutical companies.

Other networks also are growing - and medical services are only part of a holistic outreach to the poor. Many clinics have food pantries. In Charlotte, N.C., a bright blue sign identifies the Betesda Centro De Salud (Bethesda Health Center). Located in a strip mall near an Auto Tune Total Car Care shop, the small clinic sees patients 27 hours a week. It stocks its food pantry with donations, including some from local grocery stores such as Compare Foods. Executive director Wendy Mateo-Pascual says being "patient-centric" means asking if patients have enough food: If not, the clinic connects them with the food pantry, which partners with Loaves and Fishes.

Compassionate medical professionals need their own network of care: Work in some clinics serving the impoverished can be isolating. Sarah Defelice, a staffer at Jericho Road Family Practice in Buffalo, N.Y., says she sometimes feels unable to discuss her work with friends from suburban specialty clinics: "They have no idea what I am talking about."

Two years ago Scarlett Stewart, involved in starting Grace Medical Home in Orlando, Fla., struggled with the basics of opening a clinic: "I wish someone would have given me a manual … and a tutorial on effectively recruiting, retaining, and recognizing volunteers." She couldn't find a manual, but shortly after Grace opened, the clinic joined the Christian Community Health Fellowship (CCHF), which provides just that sort of help.

CCHF, based in Memphis, Tenn., is a network of more than 3,500 medical professionals committed to serving Christ through medicine. Executive director Steve Noblett fields questions from churches like one in San Francisco that contacted him about providing charitable services in its neighborhood. Noblett connected the church with clinics in San Jose, Calif., and Gresham, Ore., and saw once again that doctors in the network "want to be used to help the next guy get started."

Noblett says CCHF is "more of a community than a trade association." It helps clinics find and keep mission-minded doctors, by providing training, fellowship, and technical assistance. To doctors, he says, "When you go on vacation, ask if there is a Christian clinic in that area that works for the poor so that you can fellowship with them and see what happens there."

Many charity clinics are members of the National Association of Free and Charitable Clinics, which claims more than 1,000 members. Twenty state level and two regional associations also serve clinics. For example, 104 charity clinics, many of them faith-based, belong to the Georgia Free Clinic Network (GFCN), and collectively provide $200 million to $400 million in free care to Georgia's 1.7 million uninsured citizens.

GFCN helped pass the 2005 "Health Share Volunteers in Medicine Act" that provides immunity from medical malpractice suits for volunteer doctors and paid nurses in free clinics. GFCN also worked for a policy that allows doctors to earn continuing education credits by volunteering at charitable clinics: That allows volunteers to save money and fulfill educational requirements, and gives free clinics a source of quality labor.

Two other groups provide start-up guidance for clinics: Volunteers in Medicine (VIM) is a network of 90 free clinics in 28 states, modeled on the first VIM clinic on Hilton Head Island, S.C. ECHO, a Fort Worth, Texas, nonprofit, provides free consultants to churches and other organizations wanting to set up clinics for the uninsured.

Sometimes the networks are not sufficient-and frustration grows. Pam Snape, volunteer medical director of Greenville Free Medical Clinic in Greenville, S.C., sometimes can't get patients the specialized treatment they need "because we don't have access. … We can't send them somewhere free of charge."

We can tear down the networks of care and start from scratch. Or, we can bulwark and expand them.

With reporting by Tiffany Owens and Christina Darnell

Susan Olasky
Susan Olasky

Susan pens book reviews and other articles for WORLD as a senior writer and has authored eight historical novels for children. Susan and her husband Marvin live in Asheville, N.C. Follow Susan on Twitter @susanolasky.

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