Brittney Lofthouse – Contributing Writer
The Community Care Clinic of Franklin is a nonprofit organization that believes everyone deserves basic health care. They work to provide free medical care to patients that do not have health insurance and that have no income or have low income. The Community Care has been serving residents of Macon County since early 2010. The clinic sees patients on Monday and Wednesday nights using donated space at the Macon County Public Health Center. Their patients include people who are in the process or want to learn how to apply for Medicaid, Medicare Part B, or private insurance to cover doctor visits. The clinic, which is run primarily by volunteers, provides free help, information, and referrals to assist patients obtaining medications and other low cost health care, including blood tests, x-rays, and specialty health care.
The clinic relies on volunteer and paid providers, such as medical doctors and mid-level providers, paid part time clinic staff and community volunteers to provide basic medical care, blood tests and health education.
This year the clinic is facing significant funding decreases on multiple levels. The clinic recently learned that they will no longer receive funding from the Office of Rural Health (ORH). Kathy Stiles, Executive Director of the Community Care Clinic of Franklin some to the Macon County Board of Commissioners last week to request financial help just to keep the clinic operating. With over 800 active patients, Stiles said the lack of funding would create an extreme disruption in the clinic’s operations.
According to Stiles, Macon County is listed as 90th out of 100 in the state in terms of the number of uninsured individuals.
“Once we had the huge budget drop in our funding, we started going into survival mode and looking for additional funds,” said Stiles. “We approached members of the community and the Dogwood Trust Health Foundation. All have offered to help and some have provided some funds, but we are asking the county for support to be part of the matching grant and to allow us to partner with these other foundations to help us while we pursue other funding to keep us open and operating.”
Commissioners didn’t hesitate to approve the funding, recognizing the immediate needs to serve the community. Vice Chair Ronnie Beale made the motion which commissioners unanimously voted to approve, to allocate $37,500 from the general fund for emergency funds for the clinic. Although Stiles requested $75,000, Beale stated in his motion to provide the clinic with half of the funding in the immediate, and wait to see if grant funding will become available. The $37,500 will allow the clinic to continue operations in the interim. If grant funding doesn’t become available, Beale said the commission can consider additional funds in the future.
“I think it would be more prudent for this board to give 50 percent to the clinic at this time and see if the clinic gets grant funding,” said Beale. “I feel like they will get the funding from Nantahala and Dogwood Trusts; if they don’t fund the clinic, they won’t fund anything.”
Stiles said the community clinic helps to bridge the gap in the community, which serves patients who don’t meet the requirements for Medicaid because they are employed and working.
“Our specialty is, our reason for being, is we provide primary health care for free to patients that are citizens of Macon County that do not have insurance or also are low income,” said Stiles. “Being low income doesn’t mean they don’t work; many work part time, work in trades and are not offered health insurance through their jobs, and therefore cannot afford the high cost of medical care. Also, there are a limited number of providers in our county that are accepting new patients.”
Beale, who serves as a liaison to the clinic, stated that ORH pulling funding isn’t surprising, as he has seen a trend of ORH bypassing community clinics and that is exactly what happened in Franklin. Utilizing ORH funds over the last thee years, the Community Care Clinic has not only been able to operate, but they have actually expanded several services. While they were denied funding this year, they are hopeful they can reapply next year for the grant.
Stiles said funding is so crucial because demand is increasing, not decreasing.
“The clinic had over 1,000 patient encounters in the past year ending June 2019,” Stiles told commissioners. “The demand has increased lately. We are seeing multiple new patients at every clinic night that we are open in the time of a drastic funding reduction. We are experiencing an increase in our patient needs, we need help with the funding to allow us to continue to meet the needs of our community.”