07/29/13 — WATCH seeking funding

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WATCH seeking funding

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on July 29, 2013 1:46 PM

While many other free health clinics around the state are having to close their doors, Wayne Action Teams for Community Health, or WATCH, remains diligent about providing services for the county's uninsured and underinsured population, says its executive director, Sissy Lee-Elmore.

Grants and other sources of funding have largely sustained WATCH, she told its board of directors at last Wednesday's quarterly business meeting. But every source is not always renewable.

"We don't ever know until June, July, August if the state's going to give us funding," she said. "That'll be the same with other grants."

The WATCH annual budget is currently $739,466.

"United Way gave us approximately $50,000 a year, $21,000 of that goes directly to the YMCA (where WATCH added a standing clinic in 2009)," she said. "The County of Wayne, we're not sure from year to year. Same with the city."

Even the program's annual golf tournament, which could bring in an estimated $75,000, isn't guaranteed, she said.

"Sissy has done an outstanding job of searching out (funding sources)," said WATCH Board Chairman Dean Lee. "The well's running pretty dry."

"It's getting drier and drier," Mrs. Lee-Elmore added.

"As far as new funding sources, we have talked about it," Lee said. "It's going to require us to be more creative in our fundraising, grant (searching). We all know the need is not going to go away."

If it weren't for WATCH, patients would have to find health care help in other places, like the emergency room at the hospital or the Health Department, he said.

"Those folks are going to go somewhere," Lee said. "We need everyone to try to pull together, to replace the funding for all we know we're losing, any ideas of alternate services.

"It's a very immediate need and it becomes even greater in the coming year."

"We're the only free clinic that travels in the state. There are other mobile units, but they're not free," Mrs. Lee-Elmore pointed out.

The van is a big expense and at some point will need to be replaced, she noted.

"Thirteen years ago, it cost in excess of $200,000. Now, it would be in excess of $400,000."

She said WATCH had the van refurbished several years ago at a cost of more than $100,000. Refurbishing it now would cost far more, she said.

Wayne County has fared better than most, Mrs. Lee-Elmore said, citing funding-generated closures in other communities. She said that Roanoke Rapids, after nine years, recently closed its clinic, while Open Door in Raleigh was forced to make layoffs, the Volunteers of Medicine program in Charlotte had to shut down and an affiliate in Franklin County closed because it couldn't make payroll.

Board member Murray Porter, credited with performing extensive fundraising for the program's annual golf tournament, said that can typically be a "six-month effort," adding that other avenues are being explored to keep the program afloat.

"For a while, we were getting some help from supporters of the hospital, people that did business with the hospital," he said. "The last few years they have had to cut back. We said, 'How are we going to pick up the slack?'

"We got a list of the local foundations in the county. There are about 20 of them, something like that. Some of them have a little bit of money in them. Some have a whole lot of money. We have reached out to all but three or four and for this year, from two of them."

Most choose to contribute anonymously, Porter said, and have generated some significant amounts of money.

"(We received) $10,000 from one, $10,000 from another and $5,000 from another," he said. "But we're about running out.

"There are several of those families who have really helped us since the beginning. That's the good news. We need more prospects."

Local municipalities, like Fremont, Pikeville and Mount Olive, where clients are also served by the mobile van, could make a difference by contributing, he said.

"So far, we have struck out except for the city and the county," Porter said. "But we'll keep trying, even if they (other communities) can give us $5,000 or $10,000 a year."

In the meantime, there is some good news for the program, Mrs. Lee-Elmore said. WATCH is hiring a nurse practitioner. After undergoing a credentialing process, the new employee will start Aug. 12 to take over for Kathy Johnson, nurse practitioner at the Family YMCA, who postponed her retirement until a replacement could be found.

"We're excited about that, and we'll put the truck back out on the road," Mrs. Lee-Elmore said. "One reason we have been stationary is because we have part-time providers and it's difficult to put them on the insurance to drive the truck."