Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX

May 20, 2013

Alto health initiative hopes to morph into a regional clinic

Jo Anne Embleton
Jacksonville Daily Progress

ALTO —  Fourteen months ago, the Alto Health For All health screening and education fair was launched to help residents better maintain their health.

Although it's still very much in the early days of the process, leaders are quietly gathering information that will someday help turn this program into a rural health clinic.

“It's really just research at this time – basically, we just want to get an idea of how different areas run their rural healthcare clinics,” said Alto Economic Development administrative assistant Kathi Davis. “We are in the very, very early stages.”

In 1977, the national Rural Health Clinic Services Act was enacted “to address an inadequate supply of physicians serving Medicare patients in rural areas,” according to the Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The measure also was meant “to increase the utilization of non-physician practitioners such as nurse practitioners and physician assistants” in those areas, states the website www.cms.gov.

According to the Rural Assistance Center, www.raconline.org, in Texas, 313 rural health clinics and 64 Federally Qualified Health Centers provide services at 309 sites across the state.

And while most Texans have some kind of health insurance coverage, 26 percent do not, according to countyhealthrankings.org.

In Cherokee County, that number is slightly higher, at 31 percent.

So to have a structure into place now that can grow into a future local rural health clinic just makes sense, said Davis, who has already visited several area facilities to get an idea of how they're run.

“I have a couple more in mind that I'd like to visit, to get ideas from,” she said.

“It's interesting to see how they started out and where they are now; where they go their equipment and the doctors they have there.”

One facility, however, stand out: Tyler's Bethesda Health Clinic, “a Christ-centered ministry with a bold mission: To provide affordable, high-quality care for those in need in Smith County,” according to its webpage.

Working with numerous community partners, Bethesda Clinic serves low-income working residents who have no health insurance whatsoever, and whose medical care fees are assessed on a sliding scale.

“Their mission is really good, I thought, to help the hard-working, low- to medium-income families who don't have a healthcare package,” Davis said.

“Some of our clients do have jobs, but I'm not sure about their healthcare coverage. Other clients are not employed, and they get neither Medicaid nor disability.

“My idea is that we are not going to turn down anybody (once a rural health clinic is established), because we want to keep the name 'Alto Health Care for All,' because it will be service for all,” she said.

The monthly clinics in Alto “are growing well, and seem to increase a little each month,” with 30 clients now coming in during the two-hour period they are held, she said.

As she lines up new providers for each clinic, Davis will continue meeting with administrators from area rural healthcare clinics – like the one the one from Cushing Healthcare Clinic she recently visited – culling knowledge for future use.

“We'll be where we get to a point that we need to know what direction to go – it's a lot of work, but it'll be worth it,” she said. “There are no (medical) offices here: No doctor, no dentist or chiropractor … we want to have them here. We want to serve our people where they have been born, where they've been raised and where they are living.”