By Al Parker
TRAVERSE CITY – Uncertainty is the only certainty.
That might be the motto of the Traverse Health Clinic when it comes to funding its operations.
Up to 75 percent of the clinic's $2.9 million budget could be affected by the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, sometimes referred to as "Obamacare," according to Sherri Fenton, the clinic's development director.
"About three-quarters of our funding might be in limbo," she said, adding that some of the reduced funding would be replaced with other federal monies. The net result, however, would be budget cuts.
"We need to make sure that we remain as strong as possible – 2,500 people depend upon us for care each month," she said. "And that number is growing. The clinic is seeing 40 or more new patients each month."
Located at Logan's Landing just off South Airport Road, the Traverse Health Clinic serves uninsured, low-income adults in Grand Traverse, Benzie and Leelanau counties. It provides direct care at the clinic, plus access to a broad community network of donated primary and specialty care services, limited dental and vision care, mental health services, medications and outpatient hospital services.
"We're a safety net for the community," explained Fenton. "For many in our area, the clinic is a last resort for health care; they have no place else to turn. The impact of the clinic is life-changing for some people."
Lindsay is one patient who knows the importance of the clinic. At age 9, she was diagnosed with insulin-dependent diabetes. But as a young adult she found herself in low-paying jobs that didn't provide health insurance or the income needed to properly treat her disease.
She neglected her diabetes and trouble soon followed. She suffered eye damage, numbness in her feet and kidney damage. That's when she turned to the clinic, about a year ago.
"I don't know where I'd be without the clinic," she said. "They're doing everything they can to help me. With the help of the Traverse Health Clinic, I've seen a specialist and a nutritionist and I get the insulin and testing strips I need. If I wouldn't have been referred for eye surgery, I would have gone blind."
Lindsay also received eyeglasses that she needed, blood work when necessary and has been to the dentist. She also has a new dream: "I want to give back to the people who've taught me to live with my disease. I am working full-time and am in nursing school at NMC. I want to help newly-diagnosed diabetics so that they don't end up in my situation."
Belt tightening has already begun at the clinic. Five workers have been trimmed from the staff, which now numbers 35. Cuts are expected across the board, but no clinic services will be eliminated.
"We've been exploring all possible options to reduce costs in a way that minimizes impact on our patients and services," says Fenton. "The onsite primary care clinic will continue to be open five days a week to serve existing and new patients."
All programs that the clinic provides are continuing, though some modifications in the scope of certain services are being made.
"We will continue to look at all opportunities to reduce costs and increase revenue, especially during the next two to three years."
Fenton said that the support of the business community is vital to the clinic's operation. In addition to cash donations, businesses provided $85,570 of in-kind support in 2011.
In other community support last year:
– Seventy-nine percent of the physi- cians in the community provided in-kind support
– Munson facilities provided medical
services valued at $2.45 million
– Pharmaceutical companies
donated $2.93 million in free
– Primary care physicians donated
$132,000 in services
– Specialty physicians donated
$394,000 in services
– Dental professional donated
$320,000 in services
– Urgent Care donated $85,000 in
– $16,000 came from patient donations
Just last month, the annual Wine, Women and Wheels fundraiser brought in $7,014 for women's services at the Traverse Health Clinic. This means that 94 women can get care from a doctor.
"We're very grateful for the support we receive from the community," Fenton said. "We need to ask them to do what they can, if it's printing, advertising, whatever help anyone can provide, we are thankful to receive."
To learn more, call 231.935.0412 or visit traversehealthclinic.org.