“Community Compassion in Action”
By AMANDA OSWALT
With the struggling economy and government health care reform on the horizon, it seems changes to insurance coverage are inevitable. For the past three years, Charis Health Center has served the healthcare needs of Wilson County residents who are employed but without insurance. It’s through the success of their programs that progress is being made. Their actions have brought compassion to a community in need.
Charis Health Center’s goal is to provide primary health care designed for basic medical services. If services are needed that exceed their “onsite” capabilities, Charis attempts to match patients to service providers that have agreed to charge discounted fees to their patients. Efforts were underway in the fall of 2006 when the Inter-Church Council discussed the needs of the working uninsured, and a small group of passionate individuals began researching needs and possible solutions.
The InterChurch Council of West Wilson County is a committee consisting of members of local churches who meet periodically to discuss and address needs of the community and discover ways that the faith community can operate together as one. Their research found that approximately 20,000 employed people living in Wilson County have no insurance.
After speaking with chief operating officers from University Medical Center in Lebanon and Summit Medical Center in Hermitage, organizers established a definite need for a new clinic. This conclusion was based largely in part by the number of uninsured individuals seeking treatment at those hospitals. They also found that many children in the school systems were part of the assisted lunch program. These discoveries assisted the Council in determining where the community members are economically. After studying different clinics in Tullahoma and Gallatin, the group was able to observe how the system could succeed in the Wilson County area.
Feeling the call to proceed, the organizing Board took steps to incorporate and establish the charitable, tax-exempt status. The 501(c)3 determination was received from the IRS, and in the fall of 2007 the initial Board of Directors was formed. There are currently 24 volunteers.
The founders wanted patients to feel as though they were being treated with grace. Thus the name Charis (care-us) was chosen because of its Greek origin meaning “grace.”
“The Center fills the gap for people who are trying to make it financially but are having difficulty doing so,” said Board Director David Rhodes, a certified financial planner for TrustCore in Mt. Juliet. “We are a ministry to help people who are willing to help themselves.”
Rhodes added, “Charis has started to see a need to fill in the gaps for extended benefits for people who have recently lost their jobs. We are looking into re-evaluating the program and are in the process of extending services to people who have recently been laid off.”
The doctors, volunteers and patients have all noticed the difference Charis has made in their lives.
Charis has three doctors on staff. Dr. Joseph Ozenne, a graduate of East Tennessee State University, James H. Quillen College of Medicine; Dr. George Roberston, who has been practicing medicine for more than 35 years in Wilson County at Family Medical Associates in Lebanon. Also on staff is Dr. Bruce Goodman.
Robertson said he feels it is a privilege to get to practice at a clinic where the spiritual aspects of care can be as important as those of a physical nature.
Charis Health Center is a volunteer-run organization with only one paid staff member, a nurse practitioner.
“It’s been a calling all of my life to do this work, and I enjoy what I do,” said board member, on-site volunteer, and RN, Kelly Meneely.
“I liked the fact that they were Christian based,” said Kristie Melvin of Lebanon, who began utilizing Charis this year. “The staff is very professional and personable. They give the same quality service like they would if you had insurance. They don’t treat you any different for not having insurance. The best part is they are cheaper than the Health Department. Plus, you don’t have to wait as long to get an appointment to be seen.”
Future plans for Charis Health Center include the second annual Cannonballs for Charis Contest, a fundraising event held at the Jimmy Floyd Center in Lebanon and scheduled for the weekend before Memorial Day in May. Prizes are given for “Best Overall Splash” and “Best Presentation”. They need volunteers, sponsors and participants for the contests: register online at www.charishealthcenter.org.
The Health Center offers their services at minimal cost. There is a $15 fee per visit and $5 for follow-up visits. The Center is not a walk-in clinic and requires those seeking medical assistance to schedule an appointment by calling 615-773-5785. Upon arrival, patients should expect to provide proof of employment and Wilson County residency.
Charis Health Center is located at 9695 Lebanon Road in Mt. Juliet. Business hours are Monday 9 a.m.-2 p.m., Thursday 1 p.m. – 7 p.m. and Friday 1 p.m. – 5 p.m.