By ANGELA H. HILL
The two top leaders at Bernard Healthcare Center, Franklin County’s Free Clinic, will undergo a changing of the guard April 30. Executive Director Donna Proctor is retiring, handing over the reins to Assistant Director and Business Manager Ellen Holland.
Holland has been assistant director since 2012, handling the clinic’s budget and financial affairs, public relations, fundraising, grant applications and reports. Proctor joined as executive director in 2015, overseeing all operational and administrative aspects of the clinic.
“Donna has worked overtime to get us prepared for the changes this year, and Ellen has worked with her for 5 years so the transition is smooth,” said Nancy Swartz, chairwoman of Bernard’s board of directors. “She and Ellen have worked it out, and we wish her well.”
Before coming to Bernard, Proctor led Grace Network, a crisis intervention center in Martinsville, Va., and served as executive director of the Bedford Community Health Foundation. She was also an extension agent for Virginia Tech and a community health educator for the Virginia Department of Health.
Holland previously served as executive director of the Twin Counties Arts Council in Galax, Va., assistant executive director of Surry Arts Council in Mount Airy, N.C., and campaign director at Ferrum College. She’s was also president of Galax Rotary Club.
Under Proctor’s and Holland’s leadership, the clinic has achieved several notable designations. In 2018, Bernard became one of two sites in Virginia certified under the federal Centers for Disease Control’s Diabetes Prevention Program. Bernard also received a $10,000 grant in 2017 from Heart to Heart International for its in-house point-of-care testing laboratory.
Valued at $40,000, the lab allows Bernard practitioners to perform in-clinic testing so that they can adjust patients’ treatment and medication within an hour rather than up to two days. Plus, it saves patients an extra trip to an off-site lab.
“We have been a team and done all of this together,” Proctor said of the accomplishments.
Upcoming changes include Nurse Practitioner Cynthia Shively’s work toward becoming a certified mental health practitioner in July. Proctor shared that many patients have a co-diagnosis of physical and mental health conditions.
Shively came on board after Holland secured grants from the Roanoke Women’s Foundation and Virginia Health Care Foundation. Proctor said it’s unusual for a clinic Bernard’s size to have a full-time nurse practitioner.
“[Having Shively full-time] enables us to have a full-time clinic four days a week,” Proctor explained “Ellen managed those grants.” Bernard is open Monday through Thursday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Many free clinics are open part-time for only two to three days per week.
Like all free clinics, however, Bernard relies heavily on its volunteers. The clinic provides $6 in services for every $1 of funding. The board of directors is comprised of 15 volunteers. In addition, four volunteers regularly work in the office; and a nurse practitioner and two physicians consistently volunteer – plus others help as needed.
Bernard also became active in the Health Efficiency Network Initiative, an organization dedicated to ensuring needing care receive it in the efficient and effective ways. Bernard is part of the Community Health Needs Assessment led by Carilion Clinic; and in Healthy Franklin County, a group that carries out the objectives identified by the assessment.
Another milestone was moving the clinic’s location. When Holland came on board, which was initially part-time to help with events and fundraising, Bernard was operating in the bottom portion of the Franklin Dental Associates building on South Main Street. Under Proctor’s predecessor Elise Culbertson, the clinic received a private donation that financed a new building completed in 2014 at 1171 Franklin Street in Schewel’s Plaza.
Plus, the clinic provides testing, physicals and treatment for inmates, who are covered only by catastrophic event health insurance.
Holland said that in her role as executive director, she will focus intently on keeping and securing grant funding. Bernard serves patients on a sliding scale; most of them do not have insurance. To cover the cost of care, Bernard relies on private donations, fundraisers such as Redwood Community Association’s BINGO night, grants and free-clinic association funding.
“We will focus on fundraising as grant funds and individual donations become more scarce; and on recruiting new patients,” Holland said. Since the state’s Medicaid expansion last November, Holland said Bernard has lost about 200 patients.
Proctor said the clinic is now focused on the working poor. Medicaid patients must seek care through the primary care physicians they chose under their managed health-care organizations.
“The numbers of people we can serve are just as large as what we did serve, but we’re not serving those who are now eligible for Medicaid … Bernard Healthcare has an appeal to the working poor. We are here to serve you. If you don’t have insurance, we will put you on a sliding scale,” Proctor said.
Bernard does serve patients with insurance as well, particularly those who have no prescription benefits. Its pharmacy is open Thursday and staff can assist with applications for prescription coverage.
Proctor said the clinic’s services save the entire community money by helping to keep patients with non-emergency issues out of the emergency room – a visit that costs $95 versus $600.
“If there is a debt write-off at the hospital, we all pay for it,” she said.
Another objective for Bernard, Proctor continued, is helping those with limited financial resources stay on track.
“We give patients the time and attention they need … Many people have limited resources and limited transportation. If we get them here, we will try to take care of the whole person and keep people healthy so they can take care of their families and stay on the job.”
Now that Proctor is retiring from her job, she plans to continue offering personal training through Briar Patch Training Solutions. She’ll also keep on writing plays and fantasy fiction, and acting in amateur theater. Plus, she wants to visit her grandchildren and her son, who works for the State Department and is preparing to move to Uganda.