Area Clinics to Serve More Poor 

The university’s medical campus downtown provides more services for the indigent than any other facility in the state, at costs of more than $100 million annually. If VCU’s new plan is successful, there will be fewer people clogging the MCV emergency room for routine things such as headaches and the flu.

Cheryl Garland, vice president of community outreach for VCU Health System, says the new partnerships will facilitate more accessible and efficient care. But some say the partnerships don’t go far enough and could create a logjam of patients at already maxed-out clinics.

The number of indigents seeking medical services is growing in Richmond and throughout the country, says Jim Beckner, executive director of the Fan Free Clinic. He says that on average, his facility turns away 112 people a week.

“Just because MCV isn’t seeing them doesn’t mean they’re going away,” Beckner points out. “We don’t need new patients. Where those patients go is a concern to all of us.” According to Beckner, the solution to the problem is expanding the capacity of existing clinics. His clinic is in the process of expanding and is looking for funds to hire a nurse practitioner.

Meantime, Garland says VCU Health System is sharpening its focus on its academic, acute-care and specialty components and reducing its role as a primary-care provider.

To better manage health care for the poor, three years ago VCU created the Virginia Coordinated Care Program (VCC) to fund services for the uninsured or underinsured. The program is a joint effort among the VCU Health System, the city of Richmond and community primary-care physicians to provide eligible, low-income patients with access to physician and hospital services. Beginning in November 2000, nearly 15,000 people a year from the greater Richmond area participated in the program.

Last year, VCU hired consultants who suggested partnerships be created with what are called “safety-net providers” such as the Fan Free Clinic and The Daily Planet to provide services to the poor who would otherwise have gone to MCV. “We are trying to decide where to go with this project,” Garland says, and approaching “safety net providers” seemed a good fit.

Now, thanks to a contract with VCU, this month The Daily Planet will begin to serve 400 medical and 80 mental health patients covered under the VCC plan.

Daily Planet Executive Director Peter Prizzio says the move will enable more women and children to have easy, regular access to doctors’ visits, screenings and preventive-care services, including counseling. — Brandon Walters

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