At Family Community Clinic, there is not one minute of a patient’s experience that would make anyone think they are receiving charity care. That is one thing that makes it so unique, said Executive Director Becky Montague.
“We lovingly call our volunteers our directors of first impressions,” she said. “They are going to be greeted with a smile. We never ask for money or turn anyone away. The clinic is bright and beautiful, and we make being welcoming our customer service priority. We don’t want to add to their stress,” she said.
The clinic, which opened in the basement of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in 2011, was originally staffed only by volunteers and operated only on Saturday mornings. Over the years, the Butchertown-area clinic gradually increased their hours to its current five days a week schedule. Family Community Clinic (FCC), which moved to an expanded school building space on the St. Joseph campus in October of 2018, has a small staff of six, but is still almost exclusively run by volunteers – from physicians to nurses to front desk to lab personnel. The new space has enabled them to serve more patients. Who are those patients?
“We like to say we are the safety net below the safety net for all those folks who continue to fall through the cracks, and that crack is getting wider every day,” said Montague.
The director said that while she considers Medicaid a community safety net there are still some people who can’t get Medicaid because they make slightly too much income but still can’t afford marketplace insurance. “Working together, we are a Louisville solution for a Louisville public health problem. Our budget is less than $500,000 but we’ll provide more than 7,000 patient visits this year. Every dollar we spend gives five dollars of accessible care for the uninsured, and keeps people out of the ER who don’t need to be there, but have no other choice. We like to call ourselves the lean mean steward machine,” she said.
“Family Community Clinic, which is funded by generous donations, grants from private and family foundations, and individual contributions, primarily serves patients with minor episodic conditions such as colds, sinus infections or urinary tract infections, and also offers services such as urine and blood test and children’s sports physicals. One thing Montague said the clinic has learned is that if patients don’t have access to care for these types of issues, they are not receiving care for chronic conditions either, such as diabetes.
“We have been slowly increasing our scope of practice to include some management of chronic conditions,” she said. The clinic offers interpreters for Spanish-speaking patients and is working closely with Catholic Charities for interpreters of other languages. Montague offered that the clinic will be conducting some outreach in May to work with the Congolese community.
As for the politics of immigrants, Montague and other clinic staff and volunteers are not interested in status. “For our purposes we don’t know or care if someone is documented. All we require is their basic information and for them to attest to the fact that they are medically uninsured. That is where our interest stops and starts,” said Montague, a graduate of UofL’s Kent School of Social Work, who was worked for 25 years in health care and human services in the community. “We just want to help people who have no place else to get care.”
For some patients, the clinic’s services may be what stands between them and medical bankruptcy. “A trip to the emergency room can cost thousands of dollars for someone uninsured,” said Montague. “It might be the case that if they just had access to their blood pressure medicine, it might not have gotten to the point of an ER trip.”
In fact, Montague said that exact issue is one of FCC’s goals for the future. “For the last seven years we’ve done a great job providing sick care,” she said. “We want to make sure our uninsured patients have the same access to preventive care. Are they getting colonoscopies, do they have resources to stop smoking, do they understand how what they put in their mouth affects their body? We want to help them navigate all that,” she said.
“What makes the clinic a worthy endeavor and its real magic,” said Montague, “is the wonderful care patients receive given by all volunteers. We like to say patients are the soul of the clinic, and volunteers the heart.”
One of those generous volunteers is Dr. Rick McChane, a pediatrician who has been with the clinic all of its six years providing services like sports or school physicals for children.
McChane said the Family Community Clinic has been a perfect fit for two reasons: one, being close to retirement he has found a practice opportunity that continues to keep his medical skills current in pediatrics; and two, McChane’s passion for social justice. “I have long been a proponent for a national health plan and immigrant justice fits within my interests for volunteer work,” he said. “I find it gratifying how appreciative families are who utilize the clinic.” McChane notes that the need to access services for this population has not diminished; in fact, if anything it has increased.
The pediatrician said he has enormous respect for the founders of the clinic and the success they have achieved.
“I always find it wonderful to support these inspirational people who continue to be major forces behind its continued operation and fundraising. It’s a great example of what people are able to accomplish when they come together to address an issue.”