10/27/08 — WATCH planning to expand services

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WATCH planning to expand services

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on October 27, 2008 1:46 PM

WATCH hopes to expand services of its mobile medical van by the end of the year and add to the hours of operation within six months, officials said Wednesday.

There are also plans to convert to electronic medical records by this time next year, said Sissy Lee-Elmore, director, and next month she will submit a grant application that could fund refurbishment of the truck.

WATCH -- Wayne Action Teams for Community Health -- already received a $600,000 grant from the Care Health Alliance of Duke Endowment, which will be used to hire an additional provider, she said.

That will mean more patients can be seen on the mobile van, which travels around the country serving the uninsured.

In recent months, 50 new patients were added to the rolls each month.

Ann King, nurse practitioner hired in February, has seen on average 509 patients a month.

"Our goal is to average 500 patients a month, and she did that her first month," Mrs. Lee-Elmore said.

Celebrating its 10th anniversary, WATCH introduced the mobile van in 2000. To date, it has logged 47,930 patient visits, made 1,897 site visits and registered 8,196 patients seen.

"Those are stunning numbers for anyone trying to deal with the uninsured," said Dr. Clark Gaither, medical director of the program, at this week's board meeting.

In addition to patients being seen by a practitioner, Ms. Lee-Elmore said, the numbers also reflect laboratory services and medication, making the dollar value of the program much higher.

"This is a community effort," Gaither said. "We have asked hundreds of people to step up, and many have done so, but a few continue to step up on a daily basis and offer their efforts and time, their resources, i.e. money. I can't tell you what a valuable resource this has been to our community."

One of those entities, he said, is Quest Laboratories, which performs lab services for many physician offices in Wayne County. About six years ago, they began providing services for the mobile unit as well.

"In order to treat our patients effectively and treat them well, sometimes we have to perform labs," Gaither said. "Quest is providing lab services at no cost to the patients and no cost to us, WATCH. I could not go back and calculate not only the cost of those services that they have provided for free but calculating what it meant to the patients and their families."

It would be difficult to put a price on the value of the laboratory services donated over the years -- for blood counts, liver and thyroid function tests, pap smears.

Quest Diagnostics deserves much credit for its contributions, he said.

"I think that they are a shining example of what's good about this county and this country," he said before recognizing two representatives from the company.

Lee Smith, county manager, praised WATCH for its role in community health.

"We couldn't operate the Health Department without WATCH -- we have got limited space, we have got limited staff. Dollar for dollar, I feel that the investment of county tax dollars for WISH (school-based health centers) and WATCH is a great investment," he said.

Bob Waller, city councilman, also acknowledged what the program does for citizens.

"I know for awhile we did not participate (in funding). This is a worthwhile project and it really is doing a good job," he said. "I agree with Lee. It's one of the best things to make this a better place to live."