Dianne Frances D. Powell
TERRE HAUTE —
There are exciting changes ahead for a local health center that for years has been providing health services to the poor in the Wabash Valley.
A recent infusion of federal dollars will allow The Wabash Valley Health Center, commonly known as St. Ann Medical and Dental Services, to continue to provide health care, expand its services and reach more people in the Valley.
The Wabash Valley Health Center (WVHC), sponsored by the Sisters of Providence of St. Mary-of-the-Woods, was awarded a $778,750 grant from the United States Health and Human Services (HHS). It is one of six health centers in Indiana recently awarded the New Access Point funds under the Affordable Care Act.
A total of $150 million in awards was recently given to 236 new health center sites across the country under the Affordable Care Act. These investments are projected to help provide care for approximately 1.25 million additional patients.
In Indiana, a $4,493,417 sum was awarded to six health centers, including WVHC, to serve a proposed additional 42,086 patients.
As a recipient of the federal grant, the WVHC has also been designated as a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC).
On Sunday, Sister Lawrence Ann Liston, administrator of the Wabash Valley Health Center, told the Tribune-Star about the grant and the changes ahead.
“Receiving this grant rewards the hard work of the citizens of Terre Haute, the clinic board and the staff of the health center. We are extremely excited to have the opportunity to expand access to primary care in Terre Haute,” Liston said.
“It was exciting, but it was also scary because it’s a big challenge to have that responsibility and to look at the scope of expanding,” Liston said.
But the clinic, which has “changed many times over the past six years” is up to the challenge, Liston said.
One big change is its new ability to “expand and reach out to more people,” she said.
At 1436 Locust St. in Terre Haute, the health center serves uninsured individuals who are living at or below 125 percent of the National Poverty Guidelines. For years, it has served only adults 18-64 years old.
“But with the new FQHC, we will be expanding to everyone, including children,” Liston said.
The expanded services are expected to begin in early 2014.
Treating children will be “a whole new experience for us,” she said.
St. Ann Medical Clinic, founded in 1997, and St. Ann Dental Services, which opened in 2005, joined to form the Wabash Valley Health Center, which currently offers a wide range of services in its three-story facility.
Services include primary medical care, dental services, initial medical/dental assessments, pharmacy, dermatology, physical therapy, podiatry services and behavioral health therapy, among others.
Also included in the expansion plans is further development of recently added programs, such as its nutrition and fitness programs, Liston said.
But the expansion will also create new jobs.
Liston said the clinic — which currently has five paid full-time staff — plans to hire a CEO, a nurse practitioner, a full-time nurse, doctors and a social services professional.
Last fiscal year, the health center was supported by an army of 220 volunteers, most of whom are health care professionals.
And the leaders of the health center are excited about the future.
“The board of the Wabash Valley Health Center is excited about the opportunities of expanding services with increased ability to deliver care to citizens of local and surrounding communities. This clinic site will provide quality health care to urban and rural under-served residents and provide a medical home for them,” said Peter Ciancone, president of WVHC board.
Expanding services for greater needs
But the new FQHC designation opens another door for the clinic.
“It’s a substantial grant,” Ciancone said.
“As part of this process, we have gained the qualification to bill Medicaid so that this will also provide additional income to the clinic,” he added.
The expanded services will also include serving older Americans.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “FQHCs qualify for enhanced reimbursement from Medicare and Medicaid, as well as other benefits. FQHCs must serve an under-served area or population, offer a sliding fee scale, provide comprehensive services, have an ongoing quality assurance program, and have a governing board of directors.”
The clinic has also been working to comply with the federal requirements.
“Now we have a good deal of work ahead of us, both as a board and a clinic,” Ciancone said.
The clinic hours may also be expanded, he said.
The new grant is the culmination of years of work by WVHC leaders.
“Basically, we have been working toward this since February of 2010. With health care reform and the fact that we were [supported] by donations and grant writing, when they announced health care reform, we started looking at how we could sustain ourselves,” Liston said.
Ciancone said the board looked at ways to “maintain the long-term financial viability of the clinic,” while making sure it doesn’t lose the spirit of the clinic, which is to serve the poor and sick in the area and serve as a teaching facility for students entering health care fields.
Both Liston and Ciancone acknowledged the community support — volunteers, cash and in-kind donations — given to the clinic through the years, which made it possible for it to continue providing services.
It’s an “unbelievable testament” to the community being part of helping people in need, Ciancone said.
But the need is increasing.
Since opening in 1997, WVHC has had more than 91,000 visits.
“When I came in 2007, we were seeing approximately 4,500 visits a year. This past year, we’ve had over 15,000 visits,” Liston said. “I think the need is really expanding as well.”
But the clinic will continue its mission.
“This is really where the real work begins,” Ciancone said.
In addition to looking “carefully at expansion and change,” Ciancone said the clinic will also work very hard to maintain its partnerships with local medical providers and other organizations.
“We certainly want to maintain and continue to enhance those partnerships.”
It is the beginning of a new chapter for Wabash Valley Health Center.
“I’m very proud of the things that the board was able to accomplish. Now we get to take advantage of this new opportunity to keep [the clinic] established in Terre Haute,” Ciancone said.
Tribune-Star Reporter Dianne Frances D. Powell can be reached at 812-231-4299 or firstname.lastname@example.org.