A group of board members, clinic staff, volunteer physicians, dentists and other supporters of Hope Clinic met with Congressman Joe Barton, R-Ennis, on Thursday at the clinic.

According to executive director Mackie Owens, Hope Clinic has applied for a state incubator grant through the Bureau of Primary Health, which, if granted, will underwrite infrastructure and technical assistance for the clinic. The grant helps facilities like Hope Clinic to apply for a new access point for a federally qualified health center.

“Ellis County is designated as one of the 200 poorest counties in health care in the United States,” Owens said.

“These people are doing a great job,” Barton said. “This organization is faith-based, it is locally supported and it is definitely serving a need.”

“The clinic has a yearly contract of $275,000 in order to treat indigents and others who cannot afford medical coverage and this saves thousands of dollars each year in health care,” County Judge Chad Adams said. “These funds handle all doctor’s visits, pharmaceuticals and lab work.”

Dr. John Bousquet who contributes much of his time treating Hope Clinic patients, describes the cooperative effort as a “win-win situation.”

“This plan re-routes the indigent population out of the hospital system,” he said. “They receive treatment until such time that they can financially get back on their feet and meet their own medical expenses.”

Owens said Hope Clinic has 26 volunteer doctors, dentists and nurses who rotate duty, allowing for about 4,000 patient visits annually.

“If we win this state grant, we will be able to care for four-times that amount,” she said. “We have chiropractors, doctors of internal medicine, surgeons, urologists, gynecologists, ophthalmologists and dentists, as well as nurse practitioners and other volunteers.”

In response to Barton’s question about the qualifications of patients, Owens said, “They have to show proof that they truly are economically disadvantaged. We have three qualifications for accepting patients: they must be residents of Ellis County, they must have no insurance and they must be below 150 percent of federal poverty.”

“The hospital also partners with Hope Clinic in order to provide discounted rates for outpatient procedures and diagnostic tests,” Bousquet said.

Hope Clinic’s success has caught other, federally-funded clinics’ interest, Adams said.

“Other federally-funded clinics have expressed an interest in moving into the area,” Adams said. “Actually, the Hope Clinic is just as efficient right now as any federally funded facility.”

“We were within six months of closing the doors because of lack of support until the county commissioners stepped up and offered full support,” board member Todd Little said. “There has been an 80-percent reduction in provider loss at the hospital because of this program.”

Owens said the clinic began about eight years ago when several people got together to discuss concerns about the number of uninsured and indigent people in Ellis County who didn’t have access to health care.

“The meetings ended up with about 125 concerned people and we approached the commissioners and asked them if the tobacco (settlement) money could be used to provide seed money for the clinic,” she said. “Before long, lots of political forces in the county got involved and during those first five years, we had an all-volunteer organization. For quite a while, I was the only paid staff - but slowly we started adding staff.

“Today we have one full time and two part-time nurse practitioners and an office staff in addition to the 26 volunteer doctors and dentists,” she said.

In his address to the group, Barton said, “It is obvious that if a community-based facility such as this is already in operation, it makes more sense to support it than to bring in a brand new group.

“Health care is such a big issue and doing it the way you are doing it with community support is the right way to go,” he said. “You know, it’s nice to have a success story.”

E-mail Paul at paul.gauntt@waxahachiedailylight.com