Health & Family

Medical clinic gets $691,667 to boost care for low-income patients

Sylvia Burwell, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, speaks at Charlotte Community Health Clinic, Tuesday May 05, 2015. She announced that the free clinic has won approval to become Charlotte's second federally qualified health center.
Sylvia Burwell, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, speaks at Charlotte Community Health Clinic, Tuesday May 05, 2015. She announced that the free clinic has won approval to become Charlotte's second federally qualified health center. dhinshaw@charlotteobserver.com

A Charlotte free clinic has won a federal grant that makes it the city’s second federally qualified health center.

The announcement came Tuesday during a visit by Sylvia Burwell, the U.S. secretary of health and human services, to Charlotte Community Health Clinic, the 15-year-old free clinic now located in north Mecklenburg County.

At a news conference before about 50 health care providers, patients and donors, Burwell announced that the clinic is one of eight North Carolina health centers receiving a total of $6 million through the Affordable Care Act. They are either new FQHCs or already have the designation and are receiving money for expansion.

“This is a very special day for us,” said Nancy Hudson, who has been executive director of Charlotte Community Health Clinic since it started in 2000. “Our mission is to provide health care for the most vulnerable in our community – the low-income uninsured and those that have Medicaid and Medicare that no one else will take.”

Charlotte is one of the largest cities in the country that has had only one FQHC. That is C.W. Williams Community Health Center, which has operated on Wilkinson Boulevard for about 30 years and which filed for bankruptcy protection in December.

The Affordable Care Act included funding to create federally qualified health centers and expand existing ones to improve the delivery of primary health care services to underserved and vulnerable populations. Nationally, $101 million was awarded to 164 new health center sites in 33 states. The only other Charlotte-area grant went to Cabarrus Community Health Center, already an FQHC, for $1,069,467.

Charlotte Community Health Clinic will receive a one-year grant of $691,667 and will begin accepting patients who are covered by Medicare, Medicaid or private insurance, Hudson said. Until now, the clinic has served only uninsured patients.

The clinic opened in 2000 and operated in east Charlotte until 2014, when it moved to an office building on Medical Plaza Drive near UNC Charlotte. It has a budget of $2.6 million, including grants from Mecklenburg County, the United Way, Duke Endowment, the Levine Foundation and the Sisters of Mercy.

It is supported by Winston-Salem-based Novant Health, which provides office space and pays the salaries of two full-time and three part-time staffers, for a total contribution of more than $1 million. The clinic serves about 7,000 patients a year and has a paid staff of 27 plus volunteers who served 14,000 hours last year.

Hudson had applied for FQHC status in 2010 and was turned down. She reapplied last fall and got word of approval just as she is planning to retire. She’ll leave her post July 17 and will be replaced by Caroline Chambre Hammock, currently director of housing programs for Urban Ministry Center in Charlotte.

Becoming an FQHC gives the clinic access to more funding, including grants from the federal government and the higher level of Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement than most doctors’ offices receive, Hudson said.

Hudson projects that only 1 percent of the clinic’s population will be covered by Medicaid in the next year, partly because North Carolina legislators did not accept the federal government’s Medicaid expansion program under the Affordable Care Act. Even though the federal law has expanded the number of people with insurance, “there’s still a great need for services for the uninsured,” Hudson said.

Doug Young, chairman of the board for Charlotte Community Health Clinic, said the clinic also has plans to partner with Goodwill Industries of the Southern Piedmont to open a 3,500-square-foot satellite clinic at the Goodwill campus on Wilkinson Boulevard in 2016. Until then, the clinic will operate a satellite at the Goodwill location on Freedom Drive.

In the past year, the Charlotte Community Health Clinic has absorbed many patients who couldn’t get care at C.W. Williams, which had reduced clinic hours and staff. C.W. Williams recently hired a new executive director and reorganized its board in an attempt to restore confidence in the organization.

“We certainly hope that C.W. Williams does well,” Young said. “We feel that Charlotte is big enough to support more than one (FQHC). The need is there.”

Garloch: 704-358-5078

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