WTFC: Offering health and hope

Published 9:57 pm Wednesday, November 14, 2012

By Gloria Seitz

The brick building that houses Western Tidewater Free Clinic at the corner of Meade Parkway and Pruden Boulevard in Suffolk resembles other doctors’ offices across the region. But once inside, patients, volunteers, staff and community partners alike discover the essence of this community treasure and what sets it apart — free, comprehensive care accompanied by a mega dose of health and hope.

As the only free clinic providing medical and dental services to uninsured, low-income adults from the 1,400 square-mile Western Tidewater area, WTFC is one of a kind.

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“It’s the ultimate safety net to those individuals who might otherwise not find care,” according to Caroline Martin, president. “It offers a shining example of how care can be delivered when the patient is placed in the center of the team and how care management focuses the delivery of care at Western Tidewater Free Clinic.”

Since November is designated American Diabetes Month, it’s timely to take a closer look at the WTFC care model, given the sobering estimate by the American Diabetes Association that one in three American adults will have diabetes in 2050 unless we take steps to stop the disease.

The impact of diabetes

According to the Virginia Atlas of Community Health, Western Tidewater’s 8.6-percent rate of diabetes exceeds the overall Commonwealth’s average of 7.8%. Reversing this trend, one patient at a time, is a primary goal at WTFC.

People suffering from diabetes without insurance or resources for medications to manage the disease tend to use the emergency room for their primary care; often the comparison is made to putting a Band-Aid on a gaping wound.

While quality emergent care is provided to the patient in the emergency room, it is episodic and also the most costly intervention when treating a chronic disease like diabetes.

By its nature, diabetes can hasten the onset of other chronic diseases or complications that can be life threatening and result in the loss of feet and eyesight, mild to severe forms of nerve damage and the risk of heart disease and stroke. Yet many of the complications are preventable with good daily routines.

Filling the gap

When diabetic patients are referred to WTFC, they usually enter care acutely ill, requiring frequent visits and intense case management from the doctors, nurses, volunteers and ancillary staff to get them on track medically. Of the 1,479 patents seen at WTFC in the last 12 months, 25 percent of them have diabetes.

Using the care model of putting the patient in the center of the team, all parties understand that the patient must be his/her own caregiver between visits. This allows the care to be ongoing and greater than the sum of any one person’s contribution.

With diabetes, as with all chronic diseases, education is key. Diabetic patients are educated on medications, proper monitoring of blood sugars and Hemoglobin A1C measurements, ways to manage the disease, diet modification and importance of compliance with their medical regimen.

Helping patients choose to manage their diabetes process has resulted in decreased visits to the emergency room, decreased hospitalizations, fewer days of stay when hospitalizations occur and increased life expectancy.

Health and hope

In tandem with health care provided by dedicated staff, physicians and other caregivers, WTFC offers hope to the patient. While diabetes is an insidious disease, shining a new light on the comprehensive care patients receive at WTFC offers hope to everyone in Western Tidewater.

So the next time you’re at the corner of Pruden Boulevard and Meade Parkway, we invite you to stop by Western Tidewater Free Clinic and visit the community treasure people across the region have supported with their time, talents and resources.

There’s sure to be a dose of hope awaiting you inside as we tackle the health needs of our most vulnerable neighbors together.

Gloria Seitz is a board member at Western Tidewater Free Clinic. To learn more about WTFC or for a tour, contact Miriam Beiler, executive director at 923-1060, Ext. 7001 or