The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Sunday Profile

December 9, 2012

Right choices

Beckley Health Right helps with tough decisions about health care

Corporately, Beckley Health Right, which encompasses Hinton Health Right and Mercer Charitable Clinic, puts $6.5 million in uncompensated health care into the communities it serves.

CEO Jeff Graham explained this includes in-kind donations, medications, lab analysis, physicians’ time, specialty care and infrastructure costs.

In Raleigh, Summers and Mercer counties, more than 5,200 patients were served in 2012 with more than 23,000 patient visits.

But Graham is quick to point out that while this clinic is large today, connected to associations of clinics on the state and national level, it had a humble beginning in the basement of a church.

“Some good people from Beckley First Baptist had a vision to start a free health clinic to help uninsured adults in the area. And like most wonderful ideas, it struggled to get off the ground,” he said.

The small church-based clinic opened in 2000, closed in 2003 and reopened with Graham at the helm in February of 2004.

Once reopened, Beckley Health Right began providing care two hours a week at a night clinic with volunteer physicians.

“Our history is one of struggle, but with a lot of positive effort we continued to grow and blossomed as the need grew,” he said.

The Beckley clinic is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and offshoot clinics are open in Hinton and Mercer County.

Last year the three counties filled 41,600 prescriptions.

The Beckley-based clinic alone averages 550 per week and the need continues to grow with as many as 12 new patients enrolling each week, he said.

“It would be hard to find a family in southern West Virginia that hasn’t been positively impacted by Beckley Health Right in the last decade. It may not be in your immediate family, but chances are your extended family has been impacted,” he said.

Nevertheless, Graham said many people have misconceptions about free clinics and whom they serve.

“Most of our patients work and support their families but just can’t afford the insurance,” he shared. “It’s a shame when people have to make a choice between their own care, food, clothes and the ever increasing costs of living. We try to eliminate having to make that choice.”

And Beckley Health Right fills that void by pulling together local, state and national resources.

While the clinic is not federally funded, they do receive a state Uncompensated Care Grant.

They also use their partnership with the West Virginia Association of Free Clinics to take advantage of resource pools, like gathering supplies that are overstocked elsewhere and reaching out to drug manufacturers for free medications.

But Graham pointed out the Beckley Health Right would not be able to function without its local partners Beckley Appalachian Regional Hospital, Raleigh General Hospital, Summers Appalachian Regional Hospital, Princeton Community Hospital and Bluefield Regional Medical Center.

“All five of these institutions understand what we are about — to try to eliminate the ongoing utilization of hospital emergency rooms for primary care,” Graham said. “We have really made some inroads in doing that by providing an avenue of good, quality health care for people without insurance.”

Instead of waiting until a health issue becomes an emergency, Beckley Health Right patients get preventative care, educational programs, like diabetic education, and a recent addition of dental care.

They also provide Hepatitis C management, treating a problem that Graham explained is “near epidemic stages in southern West Virginia.”

Possibly the most unexpected aspect of Beckley Health Right is that patients have the opportunity to make a donation and give what they can for their care — and many do.

Graham said it is not unusual for a patient who came to the clinic after being laid off to return with a donation after they get back on their feet.

“We have a cash budget of $750,000 and are able to provide $6.5 million in patient care. Where can you get that kind of bang for your buck anywhere else but at a free clinic? We are able to do profound things for this community — and we do it because people need us to.”

— E-mail: splummer@register-herald.com

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