Loudoun Free Clinic Takes Top Honors

How a "Retired" Hospital Administrator is Writing a New RX for Free Clinics Nationwide

When Deborah Henley’s team at the Loudoun Free Clinic stepped on stage in November to accept the Loudoun Chamber of Commerce’s top award for county charities, it marked less than a year of her tenure as Clinical Director of the organization. Retired after 50 years in medicine, she’d been a hospital administrator and helped build two hospitals from the ground up, so she knew a little something about staffing and equipping a highly efficient, health-care operation.

What she didn’t know was how quickly she’d fall in love with the clinic when she went online to look for a “health-care” related volunteer opportunity.

“I absolutely fell in love with the staff, the providers, the caring – and, I felt I had still a lot to give,” Deborah told us. Having worked for both for-profit and non-profit hospitals, she had some ideas on how to increase work flows more cost-effectively. Now the clinic delivers $11 worth of medical care for less than $1 spent and they are working with top national health-care providers to pioneer a system for tracking patient outcomes to improve the quality and efficiency of their treatment. Americares, Loyola University of Chicago, and the National Association of Free Clinics were impressed enough with Deborah's direction that they selected the Loudoun Free Clinic to be one of 50 institutions that will to help codify more productive processes for free clinics nationwide.

Deborah has been in health care her whole life, but it’s only through her experience with the clinic that she’s been reminded why she became a nurse in the first place. “The beauty of it is that, by seeing patients here, they are getting healthier and we are keeping them working. They pay taxes; they are getting more productive and we’re keeping them out of the emergency room.” That saves tens of thousands of dollars in medical expenses that would otherwise have to be covered at government expense.

Unless someone suffers a medical problem outside of clinic hours, there’s little reason not to start at the Loudoun Free Clinic, which becomes not only the primary care provider for residents who meet the income eligibility requirements, but also their gateway to specialists who volunteer their services; diagnostic treatments like X-rays, CAT scans and MRI’s; and free prescription medication.

More than 250 drug companies participate in the Pharmacy Assistance Program to provide medicine to people who need it but can’t afford it. Deborah’s volunteering with the clinic began in helping patients apply for this aid. Recently, a young woman with Multiple Sclerosis obtained three doses of a drug costing $60,000 per dose. After it was administered with INOVA’s assistance, she was able to resume walking with the aid of a walker.

More than 35 doctors and nurse practitioners, PAs, MAs, EMTs, medical students, and BSN nursing students in their last year of training often work late into the evening to see patients after their typical work day. The staff is as diverse as their patients, and most speak their language. “They’re from all over: Peru, Venezuela, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Bolivia – it is a unique mixture that comes together like puzzle pieces and just works beautifully,” Deborah says.
Together they provide care for 800-900 patients, but could see as many as 200 more.

The clinic’s financial need is inching towards $1 million/year – which seems high until it’s compared with the cost of treating patients in the Emergency Room or letting them become too sick to make a meaningful contribution to the community. Just one example helps paint the picture of the difference the clinic makes.

A young man – just 32 years old –came to the clinic for treatment of his high blood pressure, diabetes and congestive heart failure, all largely due to being overweight. Clinic professionals helped him diet, stabilize his diabetes, and improve his overall health. Because of the care he received, he changed his course of study to get his degree in pharmacy, and now is doing his practicum at a pharmacy in Pennsylvania. “He told me, ‘Deborah, when I’m licensed, I’m going to come back and volunteer for you as a pharmacist!’”

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