September 21, 2007

New status enables Vine Hill to expand services, outreach efforts

Featured Image

A federal grant will help expand services and community outreach efforts at Vine Hill Community Clinic. (photo by Neil Brake)

New status enables Vine Hill to expand services, outreach efforts

Bonnie Pilon, D.S.N.

Bonnie Pilon, D.S.N.

The Vine Hill Community Clinic and its four satellite sites have achieved status as a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The clinic is the flagship of the University Community Health Services (UCHS), a network of eight area health clinics, and the $650,000-a-year, three-year grant will go toward expanding services at Vine Hill and funding other health outreach efforts.

“Achieving this designation opens many doors for our nurse practitioner and nurse midwife faculty to provide more services to more patients,” said Colleen Conway-Welch, Ph.D., dean of Vanderbilt University School of Nursing. “Bonnie (Pilon) and her team have worked with dogged persistence to achieve this status, and we are excited about what this means for the scope of care for patients at Vine Hill and other clinics.”

For the past 16 years Vine Hill Community Clinic has been largely funded by VUSN as part of the school's faculty practice. With the advent of the FQHC funding, Vine Hill will officially sever all financial and business ties with VUSN by the end of the year and operate solely as a UCHS clinic. VUSN faculty will continue to fill many of the primary care and specialty roles at the clinic under a professional services contract.

Bonnie Pilon, D.S.N., senior associate dean for Faculty Practice and acting executive director and COO of UCHS, and her team have been working toward FQHC status for nearly four years. The group prepared a submission for a fully funded FQHC last December as well as a smaller FQHC look-alike submission in February.

“We had to be a completely community-based organization, so part of the journey in pulling together the application was having the support of all Vanderbilt entities to let go of their official connections to Vine Hill,” said Pilon. “We also had to provide extensive documentation about the population we serve.”

In June, UCHS received news that they did not receive the FQHC award, but did receive the smaller look-alike grant. In late August, to the surprise of all, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced additional grants to health centers in high poverty areas and other New Access Points. Vine Hill Community clinic was on the list.

Pilon cites support and expertise from the Tennessee Primary Care Association and other community health centers in Tennessee as a big reason the funding was ultimately awarded.

The grant will go to expand services at Vine Hill as well as throughout the UCHS system, including:

• Vine Hill Community Clinic will offer dental services, additional mental health support, some podiatry care (for patients with diabetes) and stay open six days a week.

• The Parthenon Towers site will expand operations to four days of primary care and one day of mental health care a week.

• The Fall-Hamilton School will receive a full-time nurse practitioner.

• The VandyCalls program, involving house calls in senior living areas, will add mental health services, and;

• Obstetrics services, which were expanded under a state grant, will continue under the federal grant.

“Everything we have done has been strategic,” said Pilon. “This is exactly where we wanted to be. We have been so in debt that decisions like whether to update our weathered Vine Hill Community Clinic sign took a back seat to any funds that could go to patient care. We will continue to stretch our dollars, but those issues are a little easier to address now.”