RANSON, W.Va. – Executive director Michele Goldman can’t help but smile when she talks about all that’s been accomplished at the Eastern Panhandle Free Clinic since it first opened in 2001 and began successfully caring for a steadily growing stream of low-income, uninsured patients.
Recently, however, the clinic has experienced a transformation due to healthcare reform and changes associated with the Affordable Care Act.
Now known as the Eastern Panhandle CARE Clinic, the facility will continue to provide free primary care and medications to uninsured residents but is now also able to accept patients with Medicaid, Goldman said. CARE is an acronym that stands for Community, Access, Resource and Education, she said.
Services are also available to the community at large, including health screenings, health education classes and referrals to other community resources
This change didn’t happen overnight, and was only made after a significant operational reassessment – including seeking input from stakeholders like patients, volunteers, donors, funders and institutional partners, Goldman said.
ACA MEANS CHANGE
Looking back, Goldman said she’d watched the debate and didn’t believe the controversial ACA would ever be passed, much less become law. But when that happened, she knew “it was going to send our healthcare system into a whole new direction and that we really needed to know what was in it.”
It soon became clear “everyone was going to have to have coverage of some type, which was something we were already trying to do,” said Goldman.
“In fact, we used to have a ‘Cover the Uninsured’ event every year when dignitaries would attend and we would have proclamations from the mayors. It was really a big day and meant to bring attention to this issue. Now suddenly, this problem was going to be taken care of, but we had to decide what we should do under the ACA and how,” she said.
“We began to try to determine if there was a safety net that still needed to be filled in the community. So we did some strategic planning and talked to various people to figure out what is still needed here in health care,” Goldman said.
Under the ACA, states were given an opportunity to expand their Medicaid program to include individuals who weren’t previously eligible. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin chose to participate in the expansion, a decision that benefited many residents who are now eligible for healthcare coverage under Medicaid – including 36,270 people in Berkeley, Morgan and Jefferson counties.
But those people now need someone to provide them with healthcare, a daunting task since there are so many of them and not a lot of doctors to help handle the wave of new patients, said development director Vicki Shean…