Best-Kept Secret: Traverse Health Clinic wants to serve more people

It may be the best-kept secret in area healthcare, but that’s not the way Traverse Health Clinic wants to keep it.

The clinic on South Garfield Road is redoubling efforts to reach those who could use its service, including the essential workers who may not know its philosophy of working with any population, whether or not they have insurance.

“We never turn anyone away,” said Mi Stanley, the communications and marketing manager for the clinic.

That includes those who work in retail environments such as grocery stores or pharmacies or at local restaurants. While many have been designated “essential workers,” often their salaries don’t match that title and they may lack health insurance.

Mi Stanley

“So many younger people don’t have healthcare insurance or don’t have a (primary) provider,” Stanley said. “They’re likely to be in front-line industry jobs.”

That’s where Traverse Health Clinic comes in. Rather than going to an emergency room or urgent care facility, Stanley said people can go to the clinic. That’s particularly important during the pandemic, as the number of people age 20-29 who have been infected by the novel coronavirus has more than doubled, according to Stanley.

“As a community health center, Traverse Health Clinic does not have a limit on the number of (Health Michigan Plan), Medicaid or Medicare patients we will care for,” she said.

The clinic also offers a sliding fee scale for the uninsured and has a full-time enrollment and eligibility specialist on staff to help people navigate their options and apply for coverage.

In March of this year, 4,120 people in Grand Traverse County were enrolled in the Healthy Michigan Plan (HMP), Michigan’s expanded Medicaid program. There are 6,108 people enrolled as of Oct. 5.

Among other requirements (including not being eligible for Medicare or other Medicaid programs), to be eligible for HMP: people have to have incomes below 133% of the federal poverty level.

For a single person, that amount is slightly less than $17,000 per year, or just under $34,000 for a family of four. Stanley said while it isn’t a perfect metric, increase in HMP enrollees locally likely reflects the number of persons who have had their incomes reduced or have lost employment altogether.

One key element to the clinic’s continuing success is the sense of teamwork among both staff and patients. “We’re all working through this together,” said Jill Rountree, one of the therapists on staff.

Another was the clinic’s rapid adaptation to the use of telemedicine. “We had been using telehealth on a small scale,” said Stanley.

When the pandemic hit, the clinic switched over in 10 business days. “That’s an unheard of rollout,” she said. “It has really helped us provide continuity of care.”

As a therapist, Rountree has been on the front lines of the clinic’s ongoing use of telemedicine, which she says offers several advantages. For one thing, it allows people to continue their therapy while limiting exposure to others. “People can honor their comfort level,” she said.

It’s also more convenient, takes less time and is a boon for those for whom transportation may be an issue.

The bottom line has been the way it has been accepted by the patients. “The consistency of visits has increased,” Rountree said.

Evan Spaulding has been able to take advantage of the switchover. He’s actually interacted with his therapist by phone.

“They offered virtual (visits) but I was personally okay with phone,” said Spaulding, who works at 7 Monks.

When the pandemic shut the Traverse City bar down, he moved to Marquette with his parents and began working at a grocery story there. So as one of those frontline workers, being able to maintain contact with his therapist from a distance was a huge advantage for him. Since his return, he has continued to utilize the clinic for both physical and mental health.

Jerilyn DeBoer, owner of Cousin Jenny’s Cornish Pasties, said she recommends the clinic to her staff.

“I send people there. I have a doctor, but some of them (her staff) don’t, especially the younger ones,” she said. “Some don’t have healthcare insurance.”

DeBoer sent two of her staff there when the restaurant first reopened as they were exhibiting some symptoms consistent with the coronavirus.

“It took five days and nobody tested positive,” she said. “They are helpful and very caring.”

Stanley said the clinic has seen more patients every year since moving into its new facility in 2016. Those numbers went down this spring, which she attributed to the pandemic. Now the clinic is seeing 20-25 new patients per week.

“I’m very happy to see that,” she said.

The goal is to continue to increase the number of in-person visits, while also expanding the use of telemedicine, including paperless intake, where patients can fill out the required information by phone, HIPPA-secure email, or text.