Underinsured and underserved children, adults to benefit from Mercy Childrenís, Grace Medical Clinic merger
By Melonee McKinney Hurt, For the Williamson Herald
Mercy and grace have been synonymous in Biblical terms for centuries, but as of Jan. 1, the two have a profound new meaning in Williamson County.
Mercy Children’s Clinic, which has been serving the medical needs of uninsured and underserved children in Franklin and surrounding communities for 13 years; has joined forces with Dr. Richard Anderson and his Grace Medical Clinic, which has served the adult population with those same needs.
The newly formed Mercy Community Healthcare is now open in the Mercy Children’s Clinic space on Highway 96. Construction is ongoing on a much-needed expansion that will help accommodate those in need of medical attention regardless of age.
David Winningham, CEO of Mercy Community Healthcare, said Mercy continued to see the needs of adults who had lost jobs and their insurance as well.
“This need continued to mount as the economy started to spiral in 2008 and 2009,” Winningham said. “Our board started to sort through what our options were. The folks from Grace came to us and asked if we could join hands. We thought ‘why recreate the wheel?’ We have the same mission to care for the underserved.”
Board members from both organizations immediately started to think about funding. Winningham had been at an inner city clinic in Philadelphia that received a grant, so he began talks to do the same in Franklin. Nearly two years later, Mercy Community Healthcare received a $650,000 grant that not only allows Mercy and Grace to operate as a federally qualified primary care facility open to all ages, but the money didn’t come with strings restricting both organizations’ faith-based practices.
“There was a lot of angst among the Christians in the community that we had sold out to the government,” Winningham said. “Nothing could be further from the truth. We can still pray with our patients. We are still able to practice the way we want.”
Despite Williamson County being nationally recognized for its wealth, the statistics of those who need help in this area are staggering. According to Winningham, within a mile of the Mercy offices there are more than 300 families living on less than $10,000 annually. In it’s first year, Mercy Children’s Clinic saw about 100 patients. Last year, patient visits numbered 26,000.
“We hope to expand our reach south of here,” he said. “There is not a pediatrician in Hickman or Marshall counties, so we think there’s a huge opportunity to provide the type of healthcare we think the world wants to see in a place that’s really in need of it.”
Williamson County Trustee and Grace board member Joey Davis has been involved at Grace for years and said he thinks this is the best thing that could happen to the residents of Williamson County.
Unlike Grace, Mercy Children’s Clinic was unique in that it didn’t operate on a volunteer model, but employs two former chief residents from Vanderbilt and 51 full- and 27 part-time employees. Winningham said more have been added since the grant was approved and as many as 10 more are slated to come on board this month.
“We are about relationships,” Winningham said. “We don’t treat the boo boo du jour. We are involved in our patients’ lives. When you come here, the next time you come you will see the same doctor.”
In 2008, the doctors at Mercy wanted to create what’s known in the medical community as a “medical home.” Children born with a chronic illness could easily use up a lifetime of insurance in a few weeks.
“We have thousands of patients dealing with some kind of chronic illness,” Winningham said. We offer them a medical home, so rather than treating the illness, we want to manage their healthcare.
Mercy offers a doctor, nurse, social worker and if need be a mental health professional. Winningham says the key to the success of the program is the social worker, who makes sure the child is getting the medications prescribed to them and getting to the appointments made for them.
“We are now finding out from insurance companies that our emergency room utilizations are the lowest in Middle Tennessee because we manage the care instead of just treating the issues. If you want to get people better, that’s part of it. That’s one of the things that donors to Mercy pay for. “
The combined clinics and their collective vision to provide healthcare to everyone in need will still continue to rely on donations from the communities it serves. Winningham said he typically raises upwards of $1.5 million annually. That, combined with the sliding scale that patients pay based on their ability, will continue to keep the doors open.
“We are here because of the generosity of this community,” Winningham said. “Ninety-Five percent of what you see here was given to us.”
Posted on: 1/3/2013