“This is the 10th anniversary of our organization and our ninth conference, and every previous conference had been held in downtown Atlanta,” GCCN Executive Director Donna E. Looper said. “But we have so many wonderful clinics around the state — like Bartow Health Access here in Cartersville — and people hate driving in Atlanta, so we decided to move the conference to Bartow County.”
From the keynote address by Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens to the final workshop, the question that lingered over the conference was, “How will the Affordable Care Act/Obamacare impact the charitable health networks?”
“I know you are shell-shocked about what happens in January 2014 when the Affordable Care Act is completely enacted,” Olens told the crowd. “I don’t know either.”
Olens said he doesn’t think much will happen on Jan. 1, except there will be “a lot more working poor.”
Better health care isn’t in the cards anytime soon, he said.
Mark Cruise, founder of Free Clinic Solutions in St. Petersburg, Fla., told the conference that it was up to the individual organizations to tackle problems like fewer people volunteering to help.
“Our donors, funders and volunteers have begun cutting funds and time because they think the ACA will solve the uninsured problem, but it won’t,” he said. “But, if the horse is already out of the barn, it’s best to saddle up. If we don’t find a way to fix this, we face a dismal future.”
But not everyone foresees such dismal times ahead.
“Charitable clinics have long been known for providing a safety net for people who do not have insurance,” Roberta Green, Executive Director of Bartow Health Advocates (BHA), said. “Bartow Health Advocates has been providing health care for a long time, but as we begin implementing parts of the Affordable Care Act, there’s a lot of uncertainty about what’s going to happen. We’re trying to prepare ourselves to best provide services for our community so that people don’t go without health care.”
Green said BHA, which recently transitioned to a primary health care home, will treat more than 5,000 patients in 2013, twice as many seen in 2012 when it was basically a referral agency — working with doctors in the community to provide health care.
“Our new Louis B. Tonsmeire Clinic will be fully staffed with a full-time medical director, a family practice physician and a part-time nurse practitioner,” she said.
Green added that the most important thing charitable clinics can do is be aware of “what’s going on, what’s being funded, what’s not being funded and that sort of thing, so that they can communicate what’s actually happening and where the need is. The general public believes the ACA has done everything for them and it hasn’t. It’s very important for us to really be knowledgeable because we have to take that knowledge back to our communities.”
On Thursday night, conference attendees toured BHA’s new facilities at 31 Pointe North Drive in Cartersville. The conference continues through noon today.