Fighting the good fight

Telehealth, other new approaches keep Good Samaritan Health Clinic going

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In this May 2020 photo, left to right, are Good Samaritan Health Clinic Executive Director Jolanda Hutson, Rumors Deli Owner Annette Harris and Good Samaritan volunteers Beth Moultrie and Paula Waters. (W.C. Mann for The Cullman Tribune) 

CULLMAN, Ala. – For Good Samaritan Health Clinic, a charitable medical group serving the uninsured of Cullman County, life could only get busier as 2020’s COVID shutdown reduced people’s incomes or put them out of work altogether. According to executive director Jolanda Hutson, massive community support and new approaches to patient care have kept the organization moving forward with minimal disruption.

By the numbers

From January through November 2020, Good Samaritan Clinic:

  • Served 1,967 total patient visits including medical, dental, hearing, social services and labs
  • Accepted 164 new patients
  • Referred 337 patients to a specialist
  • Had 436 total hours volunteered directly at clinic
  • Dispensed 13,663 prescriptions having a retail value of $3.9 million

COVID-19 protocol timeline:

  • March 16 – Implemented telehealth visits and curbside prescription pickup
  • April 1 – Began receiving new patient applications via curbside
  • May 13 – Began seeing new patients in-clinic
  • Aug. 5 – Began seeing patients with complicated issues in-clinic, including diabetic foot exams

 

COVID impact

Hutson told The Tribune, “In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Good Samaritan patients continue to receive care. The uninsured in our community living with chronic conditions make them some of the most vulnerable to this virus.  For those we serve, the consequences are devastating.  Many were already behind the curve and these uncertain times have caused them greater anxiety and distress.  Many are dealing with job insecurity as a result of COVID-19 which further depletes their already limited resources.

“During these months, we have continued to adjust our service protocol to deal with limiting disease exposure and safer at home orders while making sure our patients continue to have access to the care they need.  Beginning mid-March, we began telehealth visits and curbside prescription pickup.  Our patients have been able to keep their appointments by speaking with our nurse practitioner on the phone during their scheduled appointment time. This allows for assessment and treatment while hopefully keeping them out of the emergency room.  

“Regarding the impact of COVID on our patient numbers, new protocol resulted in a decrease in in-clinic patient visits, but the number of patients requiring phone consultations more than doubled in 2020. Thankfully, with the continued support of the Cullman community, we’ve remained accessible to our patients, many of which were struggling before this pandemic began.”  

Hutson shared examples of how new patients found their way to the clinic:

April was experiencing mild symptoms and decided to go to the health department to be tested for COVID-19. A few days later she was notified of positive results. She managed her symptoms at home and believed she was on the road to recovery. A few days later, she felt incredible pain and pressure in her chest. She went to UAB where she was admitted and diagnosed with three blood clots. After being discharged, she needed to find a place to receive follow-up care and get her medications. Having worked with a local ministry who referred clients to Good Samaritan, April decided to apply for care through the clinic. April says, “I don’t know what I would have done without Good Samaritan Clinic. I have no insurance and no family here to help me. Having the clinic to come to took such a weight off of me.” April was particularly impressed with the demeanor of the staff. “They are some of the nicest people I’ve ever met. On my first visit, Ms. Patricia (the clinic CRNP) handled everything that I needed.” April is grateful the clinic is here for people who need it. She says, “I’m glad people saw fit to place the clinic in Cullman. I wish there were a clinic like this everywhere.” April is thankful for those who donate to the clinic because “they are donating to something that is really benefitting people. I had serious medical issues and needed the clinic to be there for me.” April appreciates the care she’s received through the clinic and the donors who really are “helping sustain people’s lives.”

Another patient:

Melanie has asthma and had been struggling to breathe for several days. “If it hadn’t been for the clinic, I would be in a big mess! I would have had no choice but to go to the ER and hope that they would be able to help me.” Melanie is thankful to get the help and medication she needed through Good Samaritan Clinic in such a timely manner. She feels very blessed to continue to get the care she needs at Good Samaritan, especially now with all the uncertainty around us.

COVID-19 impacts fundraising efforts

Hutson said, “As a nonprofit, the success of the clinic and our ability to meet the needs of the uninsured in our community depend on the Cullman community. In July, we made the difficult decision to cancel our signature fundraising event, the Caring for Cullman Concert benefiting the Good Samaritan Health Clinic.  This would have been our sixth year to host the event which accounted for 11% of the clinic’s revenue in 2019.  But, as a healthcare provider, we wanted to do our part and encourage others to do their part to limit disease exposure and spread within our community and throughout the state as many concert attendees come from outside of our immediate community. 

“We are incredibly thankful for the businesses and individuals who typically sponsored our event for choosing to donate to the clinic even in the absence of the event. In 2020, we saw an 82% increase in contributions from individuals alone, which helped make up for the decline experienced in other funding sources. The clinic has also been blessed with funding from additional sources that have enabled us to remain accessible to those who need us most. We are grateful to those in our community who continue to support our efforts even in the midst of hardship. Together, we are making a difference in the lives of our patients and in our community.”

“Wow” stories of 2020

As part of its end of year series, The Tribune asked organizations to share their “wow” stories of 2020, and the clinic had no shortage.

Said Hutson, “As of July 2020, Good Samaritan patients now have access to mental health counseling services through Haven Counseling Services of Cullman. This has been made possible thanks to the Stephen K. Griffith Memorial Fund established by the Griffith Family. To qualify for mental health counseling through this newly formed partnership, individuals must first apply and qualify for services through Good Samaritan Health Clinic. Then, if our nurse practitioner deems a referral is necessary for mental health counseling, the clinic will schedule the initial appointment for the patient with Haven Counseling Services.

“Just in this short period of time, counseling services are already having a positive impact.  One patient shares, ‘The Good Samaritan Clinic and Haven Counseling entered my life at a very crucial time. Through the guidance and therapy that I have been given, I truly find more meaning, value and happiness in life. This is a complete contrast to my perspective before and I truly believe that, in some way, I have been given a second chance at life.’

“In the midst of hardship, we are grateful to the following businesses who have made a difference in the lives of our patients directly: Earlier this spring, Rumors Deli and AVW Technologies, a Virginia-based defense contractor, partnered to provide 100 box lunches to Good Samaritan patients. We enjoyed having the opportunity to serve our patients in this less customary way. 

“For the months of July, August and September, Cullman Savings Bank provided $25 Wal-Mart gift cards to the first 10 new patients each month who qualified for services through Good Samaritan Health Clinic. In addition, they provided a $50 gift card to an existing clinic patient who referred a friend or family member during the month. We know word of mouth is the primary way patients hear of the clinic, so we appreciate Cullman Savings Bank helping us encourage referrals.

“For Thanksgiving and Christmas, Lowe’s Home Improvement provided pre-cooked turkeys and hams along with all the fixings for seven of our patients’ families. 

“Cullman is known for coming together during times of crisis, and this year has been no exception.

“Good Samaritan Health Clinic earned a 2020 Gold Rating from the National Association of Free and Charitable Clinics’ Quality Standards Program demonstrating its commitment to providing quality care to its patients. The mission of the National Association of Free and Charitable Clinics (NAFC) is to ensure the medically underserved have access to affordable health care. The NAFC and its members are dedicated to ensuring that patients receive quality health care. Good Samaritan Clinic was able to achieve this prestigious recognition from the NAFC thanks to its leadership during the past 16-plus years and the incredible donors and community partners who have faithfully believed in and supported our mission. We are thankful for the opportunity to serve those in need in our community and are committed to providing our patients with quality continuity of care.”

Community support

Hutson told The Tribune, “It is through generous donations, grants and the support from local organizations, churches and businesses in the community that we are able to provide healthcare services at no cost to our patients. Many local businesses donate products and services on a routine basis that allow us to use our financial resources for more direct patient care.  We certainly could not provide the services we do each day without the overwhelming support of the Cullman community. 

“Cullman Regional provides invaluable support to the clinic. Cullman Regional provides not only monetary support, but also in-kind services for our patients including ED visits, lab analysis, diagnostic/imaging exams, inpatient care, surgical services as well as coordinating care for our patients who need more specialized services than we can provide.

“USA Healthcare and EconoMed faithfully support the clinic. USA Healthcare has graciously provided the clinic’s space rent-free since the clinic’s inception in 2004. In addition, they provide utilities, garbage disposal and medical waste management each month.

“We are thankful to be one of 19 United Way partner agencies.  Not only does this relationship provide us with much needed funding, but also allows us to partner with other like-minded charitable organizations to meet the diverse needs in our community.  One example of these collaborative efforts is the opportunity the clinic has to provide basic health screenings to adult clients of the United Way Food Bank/Cullman Caring for Kids on designated food distribution days. In addition, the Commission on Aging and the Cullman County Center for the Developmentally Disabled donate in-kind products and services to the clinic on a regular basis.  We are grateful for all the many collaborative partners we have in the Cullman community.

“We are grateful to the City of Cullman, the CCCDC (Cullman County Community Development Commission), CAPNA (Community Action Partnership of North Alabama), The Daniel Foundation, Cullman County municipalities, Alabama Association of Free and Charitable Clinics (AAFCC), as well as the numerous businesses, churches, civic organizations and individuals who faithfully support our mission. 

“We are incredibly grateful for the many specialists, dentists, RN volunteers and other medical professionals and non-medical volunteers who support our efforts.  Each one of them plays a critical role in us meeting the medical needs of the uninsured in our community.  In 2020, the clinic was blessed with 34 physicians (including our Medical Director, Dr. Jeremy Stidham), 15 nurses (including CRNPs who practice with specialists and RNs who volunteer directly at clinic), 11 dentists, one audiologist and 10 non-medical volunteers who volunteered their time and talents for the benefit of our patients. And, last but certainly not least, a huge thank you to the clinic staff who provide excellent care to our patients each and every day.”

Plans for 2021

According to Hutson, the clinic’s plans include a continuation of telehealth services as appropriate.

Said Hutson, “In implementing new protocols, we’ve discovered telehealth visits are an effective and preferred manner of treatment in many instances. For example, many of our patients do not have the advantage of PTO days or even transportation and/or gas money to go to their clinic visits. For them, telehealth visits with our nurse practitioner are more efficient and many times just as effective to review lab results, monitor medications and treat other less acute needs.

“In looking for the silver lining in the midst of this chaos, we’ve discovered this new opportunity of telehealth for our patients. So, when we are on the other side of the pandemic, we plan to continue telehealth visits when appropriate so that we can treat our patients in a manner more conducive to their needs while continuing to provide them with quality continuity of care.”

Hutson also said that the clinic’s fundraising concert is, for now, back on. The sixth annual Caring for Cullman Concert benefiting Good Samaritan Clinic is tentatively set for October 2021.  Look for more details coming in early 2021.

The final word

Hutson said, “I am thankful for God’s faithfulness, provision and abundant blessings in the midst of all the challenges of 2020. The clinic’s ability to meet the needs of our uninsured depends on the faithful support of the Cullman community who understands the value and need for our services and supports our efforts in countless ways. I am thankful for our faithful donors, specialized network of physicians and dentists, dedicated staff, selfless volunteers and benevolent community partners for choosing to invest in the lives of our patients. Together, we are making a difference in the lives of our patients and in our community.”

About Good Samaritan Health Clinic

Good Samaritan Health Clinic offers primary health and wellness care to uninsured residents of Cullman County between the ages of 19 and 65 who meet the income requirements. (Household income of less than 250% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines.) The clinic offer care for routine illnesses as well as comprehensive care for patients with chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, high cholesterol and COPD. 

Good Samaritan operates as a primary care clinic providing a full range of services including medications, lab draws, referrals to specialists, dental extractions, hearing evaluations and hearing aids, select vision services for high risk patients, social services, community health screenings as opportunities arise, and its most recently added service, mental health counseling. 

Clinic eligibility criteria and applications are available at the clinic or online at www.goodsamaritancullman.com. For questions about qualifying, contact the clinic at 256-255-5963. The clinic receptionist can answer questions regarding the application process and can schedule a time for someone to assist anyone who needs help with the application. The clinic is open Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday from 8 a.m.-4 p.m. and Thursday from 8 a.m.-noon, closed daily from noon-1 p.m. for lunch.

Medical Director – Jeremy Stidham, MD

2020 Board of Directors

  • Jared Rice, PharmD, chairman
  • Matt Carter, vice chairman
  • Teri Mobley, secretary
  • Lindsay Rhodes, treasurer
  • Heather Ashley; Charna Brown; Conna Canada; Matt Dellinger, DMD; Clayton Ingram; Joe McNulty; Paula Waters

Good Samaritan Health Clinic is located at 401 Arnold St. NE, Suite A, Cullman, AL 35055.

Donations may be mailed to the above address or at www.goodsamaritancullman.com

For more information on the clinic’s services and how to qualify, visit the website or call 256-255-5963. 

To stay up to date on clinic happenings, visit www.facebook.com/goodsamaritancullman or https://twitter.com/samaritancullmn.

Copyright 2021 Humble Roots, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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W.C. Mann

craig@cullmantribune.com