News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

October 27, 2012

St. Ann Medical and Dental Services aim for federal designation

TERRE HAUTE — St. Ann Medical and Dental Services is pursuing the necessary steps to become a federally designated community health center, although it’s a very competitive process.

Also, there hasn’t been an opportunity to apply for the designation since November 2010, clinic officials say. They hope that changes next year.

If it achieved that designation, the clinic would be eligible for federal funding and it also would be able to bill Medicaid, Medicare and private insurance.

“We’re moving along down the road. We have a checklist and we’re trying to get that done,” said Sister Lawrence Ann Liston, the health clinic administrator.

The clinic has incorporated as the Wabash Valley Health Center, but still does business as St. Ann Medical/Dental Services. It has a transition board and it sent out a Medicare application this week; a Medicaid application also is being prepared.

On Friday, Liston gave Congressman Joe Donnelly a tour of the clinic, located at 1436 Locust St. Donnelly, a Democrat representing Indiana’s 2nd Congressional District, is running for U.S. Senate against state treasurer and Republican, Richard Mourdock.

Also present during the tour was Dr. Jim Turner, the clinic’s volunteer medical director. “We’d like any advice he [Donnelly] might have on helping us with our application” to become a Federally Qualified Health Center [FQHC], Turner said.

The process “is very competitive,” Turner said. He’s heard that next year, only 25 new sites may be approved nationwide, and Liston understands the focus may be on serving the homeless and immigrants.

The clinic, which serves uninsured individuals who would not otherwise have access to health and dental services, has had 73,331 visits since it opened 15 years ago.

This past fiscal year, it registered 9,386 visits with 638 being new. While it has five full-time and 13 part-time paid staff, it also had 157 volunteers who recorded 15,695 hours of service valued at $634,087. It also is supported by grants and donations.

Liston noted that in the first three months of this fiscal year, the clinic is $18,000 in the red, something she hasn’t encountered in her tenure there.

“We’ve had to buy some things we haven’t traditionally had to buy,” Turner said, including some expensive medications.

In recent years, pharmaceutical companies that used to provide medication assistance and free medicine “more and more are not doing that,” Turner said.

Federally Qualified Health Centers must serve a high-needs, underserved community, including those with high poverty rates; provide health care to all, regardless of ability to pay; provide comprehensive health care services; and must be governed by a community board.

To become a community health center, there would have to be a federal designation and a lengthy application.

A community health center would be a “paradigm shift” for St. Ann’s, Turner has said. It would hopefully benefit from federal dollars through health care reform, and it would be able to bill Medicaid, Medicare and private insurance.

Now, St. Ann’s operates primarily through donations and grants.

Community health centers can save state and federal governments health care costs because they provide preventive services that keep low-income patients out of emergency rooms.

Turner also views it as an “engine for economic development” because it would create many new jobs and require a wide range of medical professionals as well as support staff.

St. Ann’s would continue to be a training ground for an increasing number of students training in health care occupations through Indiana State University and the IU School of Medicine in Terre Haute, which now has 72 medical students, Turner said.

It also is a teaching site for the Union Hospital Family Medicine residency.

St. Ann’s is a sponsored ministry of the Sisters of Providence.

The FQHCs have been around for many years. Currently, there are more than 8,000 in the United States, and the closest one to Terre Haute is in Clinton.

At the end of his tour, and after meeting with St. Ann Clinic leaders, Donnelly told them if he wins the race for Senate, “I’ll be back to see what we can do” to assist with efforts to become an FQHC.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at (812) 231-4235 or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com.

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