The nonprofit health center celebrates one year in the Widows Home in Olde Town this month. Even after spending $2 million to renovate the historic mansion into a modern health care facility with 12 exam rooms, and reopening its former 10-room clinic near University Hospital, the center finds that demand for affordable primary health care continues to grow faster than it can keep up, Dr. Robert Campbell said.
Campbell co-founded the center with Dr. Grant Scarborough in November 2007 to serve the city’s poor, homeless and uninsured.
“We have grown so fast over the past four or five years because the need is so great,” Campbell said. “We feel like the rapid growth is a result of prayer. We’ve been praying that we’ll find ways to meet the overwhelming need.”
In June, Christ Community received a Federally Qualified Health Center grant. Amounting to nearly $600,000 in funds, the grant will allow the center to continue to expand its services in Augusta at a faster pace, Campbell said.
The money comes from the Community Health Center Fund, established by the health reform law to provide $11 billion for the operation, expansion and construction of health centers across the country over the next five years. The $595,833 awarded to Christ Community will be used to add staff and cut back on the hours doctors spend moonlighting at other facilities.
“Right now, we really don’t come close to meeting the need,” said Campbell, who estimates that Christ Community will complete more than 12,500 patient visits in 2012. “People are signing up with us as fast as we can get them in.”
Ronald Skenes, the director of communications and development, says the center receives 150 or 200 calls a week for new patient visits. Realistically, its doctors can only see 40 or 50 new patients a week.
Two new physicians will come on board in August to help meet the demand, Campbell said. But with 76,000 uninsured people in Richmond, Columbia and Aiken counties, “Assuming the average physician can take care of 2,000 patients, we’d need 35 doctors just to take care of the uninsured, let alone the under-insured,” he said. “I’d say we could probably keep 50 physicians busy.”
With the two new additions, that brings the total number of physicians to six, supplemented by two nurse practitioners.
“Our hope is that we disciple medical students and residents to stay in primary care, to really lay down their lives and meet that need,” Campbell said.
Dr. Chelsea Martin joins the staff this week after rotating through the clinic as an internal medicine resident at Georgia Health Sciences University.
“For me what was really impressive was that Dr. Campbell told us from the beginning that their goal was to provide care that was second to none,” she said. “That was an eye-opener to me. Like at some clinics, it wasn’t just giving people what they had. It was giving them what any patient would want and deserve.”
The faith of the doctors and staff is evident in their work and the way they care for patients, Martin said. It’s what made her want to join their team.
“These people who are walking through our doors are created in the very image of God and deserve the best care we can give them,” she said. “It’s really not just about providing health care. It’s about bringing honor to people who are not honored by our society.”
The mission statement is unchanged since Christ Community’s founding: “To proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and demonstrate his love by providing affordable, quality primary care to the underserved of Augusta.”
Even with the grant, more funds are needed to continue to fulfill that mission, Campbell said.
Physicians have no office space, and the second and third floors of the Widows Home are incomplete. The second floor will be developed into a physical therapy office and classrooms for community and student programs. There are preliminary plans to open an eight-chair dental clinic on the third floor.
“We’ve been praying about it. We have rough blueprints for it,” Campbell said. “We’re hoping God will send a full-time dentist for that position.”
Christ Community still needs the support of the community, he said.
“We’ve had a sort of a three-legged wobbly financial table as we’ve cared for folks,” Campbell said, with support coming from University Hospital, members of the community, churches and foundations, and patient payments. “The Federally Qualified Health Center grant is like another leg in the table. It’s going to make us more stable. That grant alone won’t allow us to do what we do. But it will allow us to do what we do better.”
Ruth Hailey is grateful a place like Christ Community exists.
Last year, she told audiences at the dedication of the Widows Home how Campbell volunteered to do a house call for her bedridden mother. She’s been an advocate for the center ever since.
“Anybody I know, I send them that way because I know that they will try to help anybody they can,” she said. “I think they’re going places. I don’t think they’re going to stop at D’Antignac and Greene streets. They’re visionaries. They get things done.”