Shoals Community Clinic offers services to uninsured

Although more than 42 million Americans are living without insurance, according to the United States Census Bureau, the Shoals area has stepped up for many years by housing a community clinic for the uninsured.

In 1997 a group of people who saw a need to provide a form of health care for the Shoals area did just that.

“It’s a partnership between the University of North Alabama, Florence Housing Authority and ECM (Eliza Coffee Memorial) Hospital,” said Charlotte Cramer, assistant professor of nursing and nurse practitioner at Shoals Community Clinic.

The clinic is for uninsured people currently employed full-time or part-time. Uninsured Students are encouraged to use the clinic services in between semesters, she said.

“We do see students, and they don’t have to be working if they’re in school,” Cramer said.

The Housing Authority provides facilities, ECM provides the labs and diagnostics, and the university provides faculty and nursing students who are working on their clinicals, she said.

Clinicals are designed for nursing students to visit and gain experience within each area of the hospital.

“It’s a wonderful hands-on experience for them,” Cramer said. “It’s a unique idea because it’s serving this population. It serves as a site for our nursing students — nurse practitioners that provide the care and the collaborative aspect between our health care facility, our housing authority and the university.”

Senior Adam Maddox said he knows students, including his brother, who are seeking a place to do their clinicals but having difficulty finding a place that will accept them. He said any group that provides opportunities for students will benefit UNA.

Sophomore nursing student Leslee Tank said she thinks the clinic is great for the community.

“I feel confident in my city for being able to provide affordable health care,” she said. “I appreciate low-cost dental care. That is a hard find once you are no longer on your parents’ insurance.”

The Shoals Community Clinic provides a wellness, health and dental clinic. The wellness and health clinics are open every day from 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. by appointment only and the dental clinic is open Fridays.

The Shoals Community Clinic opened a dental clinic in 2000, run by dentists who volunteer their time.

“It’s a first-come, first-serve basis on Fridays.” McCay said.

Extractions are the only service provided and they limit the number of patients seen to 10, she said.

Although the clinic functions throughout the year, the practitioners are only present Monday and Wednesday.

The visit costs $20 for services. This fee includes being seen by a practitioner, any tests that are run and some medications.

Patients receive many services for the cost of an appointment money here, said Executive Director Bonita McCay.

The clinic holds a once-a-month women’s heath clinic for women age 40 to 64 to receive a breast exam and pap smear. The women’s health clinic is held every third thursday of the month and although it is not running at the moment, it will return in January. The clinic also performs flu tests, strep tests, blood sugar level checks and STD testing.

“We always give out different educational materials to help the patient follow through with their care at home,” McCay said. “They help them learn to manage their care at home and to understand what kinds of things to be mindful of.”

A $5 per month administrative fee can be paid to use the Patient Assistant Program for those who need medication long-term.

There are some pharmaceutical companies who offer medications to people who qualify, Cramer said. Patients can get up to a 90-day supply for free, although there is a minimal charge for the paperwork involved.

Although he is not on-site all the time, there is also a collaborating physician, Dr. Timothy Ashley, working with the clinic, Cramer said.

The clinic is looking into offering nutrition programs, education programs and cooking classes, she said.

“The issue I think we have is that if we offer these programs, will the community come?” Cramer said.

One of the recent big successes for the clinic has been the community garden, she said.

“Two of the garden beds here were all children’s projects,” McCay said.

A dozen children from the neighborhood came and planted tomatoes for themselves, she said.

“I’ve been really happy about this,” she said. “It’s worked out really well.”

In March 2015 the community will be able to register for a bed in the clinic’s garden, McCay said.

McCay and Cramer said they both agree they have big dreams for the future of the clinic.

“We want to move more into wellness and preventative care and getting programs going that are outside the physical space of the clinic and into the community,” McCay said.