Progress File Photo from earlier at Good Sam
The Good Sam clinic may need more room for files. Changing to a Community Health Center model opens the door for expansion of services, staff and hours.
The Good Samaritan Health & Wellness Center has already made exciting news this year, with the opening of their first modern building to serve the poor and medically underserved in the community.
That was the first of three buildings that will eventually form a medical complex to continue their mission.
But the construction may not be the most exciting news coming from Good Sam this summer. An administrative change to be implemented this fall could substantially increase the clinic’s ability to serve more patients and
expand operating hours for those who lack access to regular medical care.
Executive Director Carole Maddux said in an interview last week that they are taking “a huge leap” by switching from a Free Clinic to a Community Health Center. This change in operating model opens the door for more funding, which will allow the clinic to expand hours, services and could see them serving double their current capacity.
And doubling this is a huge expansion of healthcare for those unserved or underserved in Pickens. Good Sam has served 9,230 patients in the past 13 years. Last year alone, they scheduled 11,192 patient visits at their trailers off of Cares Drive, south of Jasper.
Under the Community Health Center designation, Good Sam becomes eligible for federal funding amounting to $704,000 next year. The grant will pay for the clinic’s first paid medical workers.
Since the clinic opened their doors in 2002 (they had been planning stages since 2000), Good Sam has relied solely on volunteer doctors, nurses and dentists. In 2014 Good Sam ran on a workforce of volunteers including 15 medical providers, 12 dental providers, 31 nurses, 2 students, 4 pharmacists, 3 mental health providers and 295 non-medical and non-construction volunteers. If they count those working on their building, Good Sam saw 400 volunteers last year pitching in to address needs crucial to providing healthcare to those who could not otherwise receive it.
With their grant funded through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Good Sam can hire 11.5 positions, including full time a doctor, a nurse, a pharmacist and a part time dentist, plus other medical and administrative assistants.
Having paid staff will allow Good Sam to expand hours, which they have long recognized as a problem for their working-class patient base. Currently they only operate in the mornings.
“This has been a real frustration to us,” Maddux said of the limited hours. “It has been tough on our working patients.”
In September, they plan on being open traditional working hours (M-F, 8:30 a.m. until 5 p.m.). After six months with that schedule, Maddux said they anticipate offering evening hours.
Over the past 13 years as a free clinic with limited hours and a very busy schedule, Maddux said they realized that follow-ups and preventative appointments are often missed as patients had trouble getting off work in the mornings to get there.
Maddux said with the grant they hope to expand in both hours and services offered and that means using the paid staff in addition, not instead of, the volunteer base. In an information sheet the clinic noted, “First and foremost, we will continue to need all our volunteers to be successful.”
Another change is that under a Community Health Center model the treatment won’t be free for patients, but Maddux said they will maintain their more than decade-long mission of “no one turned away.”
She said they will charge on a sliding scale which will be “very generous,” she said.
This change will also open Good Sam services to those on Medicare, Medicaid or private insurance. Previously anyone with any medical coverage was turned away.
“Insured or not are welcome,” she said. “Money or not, welcome. Under the terms of the grant, we can’t turn anyone away.”
Maddux said before the Good Sam board voted to change to this model in January 2011, they had put a lot of work into it and considered it at great length.
Two of the founding physicians Drs. Al Hallum and John Spitznagel voiced the opinion, “that conversion to CHC status was inevitable if we were going to be able to continue our mission of treating the underserved.”
Maddux said others who studied it and consultants found this change makes Good Sam much more sustainable.
Fifty years from now, Good Sam will be viable under the new designation Maddux said.