Reprinted with permission of The Pilot, 2007.

Free Clinic Has Growing Pains


BY CLAUDIA WATSON: SPECIAL TO THE PILOT

The increasing demands on Moore Free Care Clinic's resources were the focus of a recent strategic planning retreat.

A work group comprised of clinic staff, board members, advisers and community activists targeted the current facility, its pharmacy operations and physician recruitment as the most pressing issues facing the clinic.

The clinic's 600-square-foot office, which is housed in the rear of the Moore County Health Department in Carthage, was meant to allow three or four people to work comfortably. It's now "operations central" for at least six employees and volunteers during clinic hours.

The space, which serves as the clinic's administrative office, also holds patient records, medical supplies and equipment and is the main receiving area for patients. In the year ending 2006, the clinic handled nearly 2,000 patient visits. Patient exams are performed in one of the health department's exam rooms.

"We're bursting at the seams and have simply outgrown this space," says Laura Tremper-Jones, executive director of the clinic. "We're feeling the growing pains of our success as a free clinic. It's a very difficult environment for us and for our patients who require privacy."

'Benevolent Landlord'

During the clinic's strategic planning retreat, the cramped facility was voted as the major issue to be tackled this year. The clinic rents the space from the county for $1 annually, but the lack of space is restricting its patient capacity and efficiency.

"We have a very benevolent landlord," said Dr. H. David Bruton, immediate past president, referring to the Health Department's director, Robert Wittman, and the county. "The Health Department has been wonderfully generous to the clinic and its staff. They've offered us as much as they can, but demands on their resources are growing. We have to be realistic about the clinic's future needs and plan for it.

"We need to look at all the possibilities, including a satellite clinic or modular units to take the pressure off the current clinic. We're also going to look for other space that may be available in the community, but we do not want to build a clinic. You don't want to hold that mortgage."

Bruton will serve on the facility work group.

In addition to the facility issue, the group targeted the growing financial and logistical issues related to providing prescription medications to the 1,239 patients enrolled at the clinic.

'Overwhelming Demand'

During the past year, the clinic provided $219,643 in medications to the low-income and uninsured patients it serves -- by far the biggest budget item for 2006.

"There is an overwhelming demand. We must find a balance -- a way to continue our compassionate patient care and education and improve our efficiency," says Tremper-Jones, who makes daily runs to local pharmacies to have medications available for patients when they arrive.

She said a work group will look at several possibilities including the prospect of forming a nonprofit pharmacy or establishing a medication formulary, as has been done by other free clinics in the state.

The clinic has new software and a full-time employee to verify patient eligibility and to process the prescription applications with the pharmaceutical companies, but the staff wants to improve the efficiency of ordering and distributing the medications.

The retreat group also identified the requirement to recruit more physicians to volunteer at the clinic. These volunteers are needed to assist with increasing patient needs at the clinic and to provide backup to clinic staff.

"We have a terrific core group of doctors in our community who are very dedicated, but we need more hands to handle these growing demands," says Tremper-Jones. "We have untapped resources out there," she continues. "Many retirees who move here would like to volunteer but need to obtain North Carolina licenses if they are from out-of-state or keep their North Carolina license current. We need to find a way to reach them and make it possible for them to continue to help, as they can."

According to Stuart Tuffnell, board's new president, work groups will be formed to study each of these three high-profile issues and recommend action.

More information about the clinic can be found on its Web site at
www.moorefreecare.org. Contributions to the clinic may be mailed to Moore Free Care Clinic, PO Box 161, Pinehurst, NC 28370.
Claudia Watson may be reached at
cwatson87@nc.rr.com