“It’s very exciting,” said BHA Executive Director Roberta Green, who joined the organization last year. “I’ve done this before, several times, but I have never been more excited about a community opening a comprehensive health care home like this in my entire life. This is such a wonderful, supportive community.
“The patients are so grateful. The physicians and health care professionals in the community are so supportive. The hospital is so supportive. This is really a grassroots community effort in being able to take care of our neighbors, and for me, it’s probably the single most rewarding thing I have done in my entire health care profession.”
While this has been BHA’s objective for several years, the ability to secure a permanent, larger facility at 31 Pointe North Drive — with the assistance of a $498,646 Community Development Block Grant — and a family practice physician in 2012 made it possible. Currently volunteering her time, Dr. Celedor Akintunde is seeing patients by appointment on Tuesdays and Thursdays at the nonprofit’s Louis B. Tonsmeire Clinic.
“I was at a big transition in my life and I wanted to volunteer,” Akintunde said. “I saw that they helped people that were in need and, as I learned more about them, I knew that they didn’t have a physician. So I told her I had the time. I’m pregnant. I wasn’t working at the time and I said, ‘I’ll just volunteer either until you all find a physician or if we think it’s a good match, if we both want to continue to work together.’
“[So far I have seen patients with] hypertension, diabetes ... chronic pain — so pretty much the standard stuff. It’s a great facility, especially with the transition in health care. People who don’t have insurance, they can still get good health care. We need more places like Bartow Health Access.”
When construction on the unfinished portion of the BHA’s 5,000-square-foot building is complete in the spring, comprehensive services will be available to Bartow residents in need, regardless of insurance status or ability to pay. At that time, the Louis B. Tonsmeire Clinic will contain 12 additional exam rooms, a medical dispensary, a nursing station, laboratory, a community health education space and behavioral health rooms.
“When it’s a referral center, it’s a good way to do it but it’s also fractured in that it’s more episodic care,” Green said. “Right now we have a saturation of patients that are low income or uninsured for our medical population, our health care professionals here in Bartow County. So our health professionals are not able to really see any more of the indigent patients. So what we’re trying to do is create a health care home that is as good as you would have in any private practice, where patients can come here regardlesss of their ability to pay.
“So the focus isn’t on all of the insurance billing. ... [It is] really [about] getting patients who have neglected their health care for a long time into a place that they feel comfortable and they can begin to develop a relationship that they are treated with respect and with dignity. So then they’re able to kind of let down some of the barriers and begin to make some positive health care changes in their own life. And the goal here is for us to be able to treat the whole family. So right now a lot of our patients would have to go to a separate pediatrician for their kids. They’d go to a separate internal medicine doctor for themselves.
“What we have here is a doctor that specializes in seeing just families. They’re called a family practice doctor. We have a number of family practice doctors who have been very, very generous to us here in Bartow County — in fact, many, many of the physicians of Bartow County have been very generous to us. They’re just at their capacity to being able to see patients from us.”
In the past four years, the nonprofit has assisted more than 10,000 uninsured residents with health care referrals and medication assistance. Until its clinic is open full time, the BHA is transitioning patients from its referral services — which operates three days a week and utilizes the assistance of about 55 health care providers treating patients at no charge or a reduced rate — to the care of the nonprofit’s on-site staff. To qualify for these services and future care, individuals must reside in Bartow and be at 250 percent or below the Federal Poverty Level.
“What we are is a safety net for those people who do not have health insurance,” Green said, adding the nonprofit also is in the process of accepting Medicaid. “So the way that they receive their care is by participating in their care and they do so through a sliding fee scale.
“Nobody is turned away because they are not able to pay. But we do qualify patients and we ask them to be truthful and forthright with what their income is and to participate in their health care.”
Looking to the future, Green said the BHA’s health care home will offer health education, mental or behavioral health with Highland Rivers Health’s assistance, primary health care and dental services, with the latter component being available at the end of the year or in 2014. The nonprofit already has received numerous requests from professionals in the health care field about volunteer opportunities at the clinic.
“I see this being a comprehensive primary health care home for patients who don’t have insurance but do have insurance with the Affordable Care Act coming up,” Green said. “I see this in the future ... being a place where people are very proud to call this their doctor’s office — this is where they go to the doctor. I see us becoming as a resource for the community in how to navigate this new Affordable Care Act. We’re spending time with the website redevelopment with our patient navigators and things like that, just trying to be sure that we get the information out there and we become an easy way for people to understand how to navigate health care that’s coming up, which is very difficult and very complex and right now many of the health care professionals themselves are trying to figure it out.
“... We [also] want to help train and bring up the next generation of health care professionals. So we want to be a place where interns and students who want to be nurses who are in nursing school, who are in medical school, who are in PA school or whatever have the opportunity to come and serve one of their rotations here and experience what it’s like to serve the underserved in a high quality, health care environment.”
With BHA’s funding primarily comprised of private donations and foundation grants, the organization is looking to the community to assist with its latest endeavor. By donating $10,000 to BHA’s capital campaign, supporters will have the opportunity to dedicate a room in the Louis B. Tonsmeire Clinic to the person of their choice.
For more information about the BHA or to contribute to its capital campaign, call 678-535-7216, visit www.bartowhealthaccess.org or email Roberta@bartowhealthaccess.org.