Healing body & soul
Christian clinics expand to include outreach program
By Amos Maki
Friday, September 21, 2007
Three years ago when 60-year-old Juanita Fields was plagued by persistent low energy, she sought help in the emergency room.
The multiple ER doctors who treated her couldn't diagnose her problem, but on a visit to the Christ Community Health Services clinic in Orange Mound, doctors determined Fields had diabetes.
"Right away, they started treating me and giving me the right medication," Fields said. "I'm still following my directions and my diet."
Since its founding in 1995, Christ Community Health Services, a nonprofit focused on fulfilling the physical, spiritual and emotional needs of the poor and under-served, has helped thousands of people like Fields.
Now, Christ Community -- which has four clinics that offer services ranging from adult, newborn and pediatric care to obstetrics, gynecology, dentistry and pharmacy -- is extending its roots in Memphis by buying a new building near the fairgrounds that will house the agency's community outreach program.
"I think we're really pleased that we're able to serve more people and we're gratified by the support we've received from people in the business and philanthropic communities," said Burt Waller, executive director of CCHS. "Our first seven years in existence were really lived on the edge of financial ruin, so that makes us feel a great sense of humility about our success."
Christ Community is also drawing the interest of federal officials who think it could serve as a model for other faith-based and community health organizations that receive federal funding.
"This is a stellar community health center," said Kimberly Konkel, associate director for health for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Center for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, who recently toured two Christ Community clinics. "I wish we had more like it."
Unlike some other health care providers to the poor, there is nothing poor about the services offered at Christ Community, Konkel said.
The experience begins when you walk in the front door, Konkel said. The bright, clean center in Orange Mound resembles a clinic you might find in the suburbs, not one that caters to the poor and uninsured.
"When you walk in here, the clinic doesn't look any different than a normal, full-service clinic," Konkel said. "Everything is nice, and that's not always the case when it comes to community health centers."
Konkel said appearances can be crucial when it comes to getting people to come to the doctor for diagnosis or treatment.
And if they're more likely to get care at a community clinic such as Christ Community, Konkel said, they're less likely to go to an emergency room.
"The people in this demographic are usually going to emergency rooms," she said. "We hope we can allay those costs with this kind of preventive medicine."
Konkel and Mike Costigan, director for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives at HHS, said Christ Community has done a remarkable job leveraging federal funds to attract more funding from the private sector.
"We're trying to teach these groups to develop these kinds of partnerships," he said. "How do you build those relationships and fund-raising so you don't have to rely on us?"
CCHS receives about $1.2million in federal funds each year to support the operations of its health centers and another $600,000 per year to support its outreach programs.
Leveraging the federal funds was crucial to opening the Orange Mound clinic. In 2005, CCHS used the federal funds for operations to win a grant from the Assisi Foundation to build the clinic.
"We had the funds and capacity financially to operate a center that would break even financially, but what we lacked were the capital funds," Waller said.
They also use private donations to attract federal funds. For instance, the Baptist Foundation funds the organization's mobile clinic, and CCHS used that funding to attract federal grant money for an expansion.
"It works both ways," Waller said. "We're very opportunistic and creative and that has resulted in us being viewed positively locally and nationally, which gives us the ability to do a lot of leveraging."
Christ Community's outreach programs also have been recognized nationally.
In 2006, along with institutions such as Yale University and Columbia University, Christ Community was awarded a $150,000 grant by the Office on Women's Health in HHS to enhance its Heart of a Woman program, an educational effort focused on preventive heart health care for African-American women. Christ Community was the only community-based primary care program to receive funding.
"It is a very positive commentary about how we do our work and how our work is regarded," Waller said.
-- Amos Maki: 529-2351