The Compassion Medical Clinic: Continuing To Build Upon The Foundation Of God’s Love

The Compassion Medical Clinic has seen a lot in its decade of service. There was a lot of observation groundwork that went into the clinic…another 13 years to be exact. It may seem like a lot of time lost, but when viewed through the lens of God’s timing, as explained by the Reverend Michael Kelly, Chairman of the Board of the Compassion Medical Clinic, everything fell into place exactly when and how it was supposed to. The result has been a blessing to the residents of Williams County.

“When we first started this,” Pastor Kelly recalled, “…we ran smack into the depression that came along. At that time, there were seven to eight thousand adults living in Williams County that were not covered by any form of insurance. At that time, the Bryan Medical Group had a policy in which you if you owe them money you could not see a doctor unless you brought cash for the appointment. As a pastor, I was dealing with a lot of people coming in and asking for 60, 70, or 80 dollars in order to go to the doctor. They would then come back the next day and say that they saw the doctor, but now they needed $125 to cover the prescriptions that the doctor had written. It was the same if you went across the street. If you went across the street, the hospital would treat you for free, sort of, after the hospital bills you 9 times and decides not to send you to collections. You still had the doctor and the radiologist, which bill separately. So you want across the street to the hospital, and you still have a $300 doctor bill, a $250 radiologist bill, and you still have the $125 for prescriptions. You went to the emergency room where it’s ‘free’, but behind that are five or six other doctors who are not free, and they’re not going to write it off. So people could not go to the Bryan Medical Group because they would not see them, and if they went across the street they were still going to get a five or six hundred dollar tab…and still need $125 to buy the prescriptions. I’ve been dealing with this for over 20 years as a pastor in this community. That is what caused us to begin to say that we needed a free clinic. I saw this problem back in 1994, and that was when I spoke with an attorney about beginning a free clinic. The church was that a space where it was growing, I could not devote the time to a free clinic, and quite frankly I didn’t want to do it. I’m a pastor. I’m not a medical person. As we looked at it over the next 10 years though, the need kept growing and growing. The more that I looked at the numbers, the more I realized that there are people that are simply not going to the doctor because they don’t want to run into debt, or they can’t see the doctor. It was one of those situations where it simply kept getting worse and worse, and the numbers of people without coverage kept getting worse and worse. That’s the root of how we got started.”

That little aforementioned part dealing with God’s timing was soon to come into play for Pastor Kelly. “Grace Community Church became a part of the Mennonite Church USA Ohio Conference in March of 2005,” he said. “In July, 2005, the Mennonites had their biennial conference in Charlotte, North Carolina, and I attended. One of the aspects of the Mennonites that year was that they wanted to focus on providing health care for people who didn’t have it. I came back to town, thinking, ‘Okay God…I’ve been looking at this for eleven years.

Maybe it’s time to move forward with it.’ I came back to my office, and sitting smack in the middle of my desk is a brochure that Stacy Bock (the United Way of Williams County Director at the time) had left for me. She knew of my interest in a free clinic, and she came across this organization called the Ohio Association of Free Clinics. Their brochure was waiting for me when I got back. The Mennonites just talked about access to health care. I get back, and on my desk is this thing from the Ohio Association of Free Clinics…and they were going to have a conference in October. One of the points covered in the conference was to be how to start a free health care clinic. This was no accident. I went down to the conference in Columbus, and it didn’t take me long to figure out that all you needed to start a free health care clinic was someone that was somewhat organized. They provided a lot of paperwork and a lot of structure that helped us. It just took someone to work through that structure. When I came back to town, the first thing that I did was go to Troy Simon. He ran the Bryan Medical Group at the time. I asked him what he thought about a free medical clinic, and he said that we needed a free medical clinic and that I needed to talk to the doctors. That was on a Thursday. We went to the meeting of the doctors the following Monday at the Medical Group. I explained that we were looking at setting up a free clinic, and asked if they would be interested in getting on board. I left that meeting with twelve doctors.”

Everything was falling into place for the clinic, and Pastor Kelly continued, “I had all these doctors signed up, so now I needed a Board of Directors. I asked Dr. Robert Sharrock to be the Medical Director. Jan David joined as the Nursing Director. I talked to (CHWC CEO) Phil Ennen, and he said yes. I talked to Dan and Diane Ullom, and they agreed to serve as the Directors. Diane has lab experience, and Dan is an RN. We went around three states, and looked at around ten different clinics to see what they were doing. Meanwhile, we continued to develop the Board. We needed a lawyer, and Karen Gallagher came on board. We needed a Pharmacist. We needed someone who was good at building. We needed people who understood prayer. We put a Board together, made of people who do these things for a living. My job was just to organize and to bring people together. By early 2006, we could have opened the clinic if we wanted to. In our tour of clinics though, we noted that everyone had started as a Christian organization, yet none of them remained as a Christian organization. That was one of the things that helped form us. We decided early on that we would not lose that. As long as Executive Director Diane and I are functioning here, this will remain a Christian organization. This isn’t just a clinic to give people health care, it’s a place to show the love of God, and that Jesus Christ provides for their needs, personally…hence the name.”

Having secured the mission, the Board and the service personnel, all that was needed was a place where the business of care could be conducted. “It was originally my intent to find a place, a storefront uptown,” Pastor Kelly recalled about the most profound display of God’s timing and providence. “We could have done it, but God had a different plan. What the doctors wanted and needed as far as a location space goes, we could not find. I woke up one morning, and thought about this building on Edgerton Street that the Living Word Christian School owned…and they don’t even know that they own it. It was 13,000 square feet; we could remodel it for anything. I wrote a letter to Living Word, saying that I knew that they wanted to sell the building to fund their school, but asked if they would consider donating it to us, promising that every square inch would be used for the cause of Christ. A few weeks later, I got a letter back from their Board, saying that they would give us the building. God handed us the keys to a $400,000 building. Then He provided over $350,000 to remodel this $400,000 building. God had a plan for this building all along…it just took me a year to figure it out! Pastor Sam Byroads came out here and worked on the building every day for almost a year, helping oversee the remodeling of this building. We have a $50,000 budget per year.

God has provided that $50,000 every year for ten years, and we don’t really do much work in raising funds. He simply provides for us. We receive nothing from any governmental entities, and by our choice, we no longer receive funds from the United Way. We send out a letter per year, and some years we don’t even do that. We will be glad to come out and speak to any group that asks to come. We would love to come and speak to your group! Your church group. Your missions group. Your civic organization…any group. We’d love to come and tell our story, because it’s a powerful story about God’s ability to provide everything that you need. As long as you stay focused on Him, it all comes in. We opened our doors in June of 2007, and we are coming up on our tenth anniversary.”

The clinic has seen a lot of changes over those ten years. The most recent change has been in days of operation, which is now Thursdays exclusively. Obviously though, there were other changes made that radically changed the medical landscape nationwide. “Two years ago, the landscape of access to medical care changed radically in every county,” Pastor Kelly said. “The Affordable Care Act came along. With it came Ohio’s decision to change Medicaid. Governor Kasich made a huge decision, a very expensive decision and a very good decision. The way the Medicaid was set up in the beginning it was that you qualified if your income was 100% of the federal poverty guideline or below, and you had children. If your income was zero and you had no children, you didn’t get Medicaid. Medicaid at the time was strictly aimed at families with children. What governor Kasich did that was so incredibly good, was first move the level from 100 to 138% of the poverty guidelines period that opened up a lot of people, a lot of people with $8 and $9 jobs now qualified for Medicaid where they didn’t qualify before. Plus, he said that it didn’t matter if you had children or not. Suddenly, single people, married couples without children, and couples living together were now qualified for Medicaid. That probably took five thousand people off the table in Williams County alone, right there.

Just those two changes.

But doesn’t ACA marketplace insurance make something like the Compassion Clinic unnecessary? “The problem with that,” Pastor Kelly explained, “…and at the place where the ACA was wrong, is that a person goes out now and pays $50 to $100 per week for medical insurance. They have about $5,000 a year invested in medical insurance, which has a $5,000 to $6,000 per year deductible. A person making $25,000 a year has $5,000 a year in insurance payments and $5,000 a year in deductibles. With that, this person has $10,000 or $11,000 out of his pocket, prior to his insurance paying a penny. That’s half of that person’s income! Yeah, they’ve got insurance. They’ve got a viable insurance. In truth though, they are worse off now than they were before, because now they are putting out $5,000 out of their own pocket that they were not putting out before. The ACA dug them a deeper hole. The working poor, the guy that we are really aiming for, got worked over. We really try to respond to that.”

Seeing the pitfalls of the ACA, the Clinic Board of Directors made adjustments to compensate. “We have made some changes here,” Pastor Kelly said. “Our original policy was 200 percent of federal poverty guidelines or below, and we would treat you if you had no insurance. We have moved that up to 250 percent to open the doors for more people, then we opened it up so that if you have insurance, but if you have a deductible of $2,500 or more, we would see you for free. Then we made a third change in which we moved out to anyone…period. It doesn’t matter if you live in Williams County. We made that change in our last Board meeting back in November. A fourth change was made when we decided to dispense our prescriptions, free of charge. With these changes, we have adapted to the ACA. We adapted by increasing who we would see by 200 to 250% of the poverty guidelines. Now, you could make $55,000 or $60,000 a year, and still qualify for the free clinic, if you have a family of four. That’s how generous our guidelines are now. On top of that, we decided to give out all of our prescriptions that we sell here, free. By itself, that’s a huge number. That’s a monster expense. We wanted the people to have this when we saw that they were having trouble even paying our cost. The prescription costs are out of sight, and every year it just gets worse and worse.

Stuff that we used to pay $15 for, now costs us more than $50 in just a few years time. We have some inhalers now that cost us $70, and just a few years ago they retailed for $40. Now they cost us $70, and they retail for $150. The decision to give the prescriptions away affected our bottom line, big time. We’re talking tens of thousands of dollars per year, but the changes have made a huge difference. I can’t tell you exactly how much it is, but I would guess that we give out $50,000 to $60,000 retail in prescriptions, per year. Now, that guy that is laying out $5,000 a year for insurance that he can’t use, can come here, get his doctoring free, and get his prescriptions free. Under the old way, he still put out that $5,000, but he got no value for it whatsoever because of the deductable. He would be afraid to use it. It’s catastrophic insurance, really. That’s all that it is.”

What about those labs and radiologies that the doctor orders, though. What happens with them? “Nothing from here is charged against your insurance deductible, simply because we don’t charge anything,” said Diane. “What is billed through the hospital is between you and them. We’re not involved with that.” Pastor Kelly added, “Our patients that we send to the hospital for lab work are automatically scheduled into the hospital’s charity cases tract. That means that they’re probably not going to get billed, or they’ll get billed at a very reduced rate…and that bill can very easily be written off because the patient is already in the charity tract. It saves the hospital time and energy doing it this way. One of the benefits that we provide for the hospital is that we save them from extra paperwork in the back room. The hospital has been extremely generous to us. The Community Hospitals of Williams County, and CEO Phil Ennen, have gone out of their way to help us. Every time that we’ve needed something, they’ve been there for us. A lot of our volunteers come from there; they’ve been a huge help to us.”

We’re doing everything that we can to accommodate people, to make access to medical care easier. That’s our goal…to make it so that they can actually come. We’ve seen people who were dying of cancer, who had no medical help whatsoever, but came here because they had no place else to go. We were able to help them. We weren’t able to alter their outcomes, but we were able to be beside them…to show that love.”

Diane interjected, “Several of our patients said that they would be dead if it wasn’t for us. They came to us shortly after we opened, and before any changes were made with the ACA or Medicaid. They refused to go to the hospital, because they couldn’t afford to have a big bill.

They didn’t understand that it’s a non-profit hospital, and if you go there they could treat you free.”

The Compassion Medical Clinic is always willing to accept donations, but Pastor Kelly says that the best donations would be in the form of financial contributions. “If you’re going to make a donation to us, it’s best to make it in the form of money because of the way that we buy stuff. We buy stuff below retail, and a lot of the time below wholesale. We can therefore make the money go a lot further. We can buy the supplies that we need, at prices that the public simple can’t get. You might have to spend $250,000 to get the same things that we can get with out $50,000 annual budget.”

The Compassion Medical Clinic is also always seeking volunteers to fill several skilled and non-skilled posts. “They could be a medical professional of some sort,” Pastor Kelly explained. “The other side of the coin is, we have people who are greeters. We have people here who work in the kitchen. We need people, churches primarily, who can provide meals for our volunteers once a month. If someone would like to come in and clean the offices and the toilets, we’d love to have those kind of volunteers. We have spaces and needs for non-medical personnel, as well as medical personnel. Just because we are a clinic doesn’t mean that we only want doctors and nurses.” Anyone interested in becoming a volunteer, or asking about current openings can call the Clinic at 419-630-0313.

As their first decade of service draws to a close, the work of the Compassion Medical Clinic continues unabated. There will be a ten year celebration on June 1, with light refreshments served and the public welcomed at the 614 East Edgerton Street office. This will also be a Thursday night though, so although there will be a festive atmosphere at the Clinic, it will also be a work night for the staff. Should you need to set or inquire about an appointment, please contact the Clinic at 419-551-7169.

Timothy Kays can be reached at tim@thevillagereporter.com

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