Thursday, August 10, 2006
By BARRY BURLESON
Gay Sheffel knows firsthand the importance of community health centers.
She has been a patient at the Byhalia Family Health Center for two and a half years. She was one of the speakers Saturday at a celebration of 28 years of service by the center. Community health centers across the country provide quality and affordable healthcare to those who are in underserved areas and who may be in need.
“Byhalia Family Health Center has literally saved my husband’s life and has extended my life,” she said. “Marjorie McKinney (executive director) and the staff here are a blessing. You’re making a difference.
“Without this clinic my husband and I would have had no healthcare. We had exhausted our funds. You have made a life-saving difference in our lives.”
The celebration, as part of National Health Center Week, also included remarks from U.S. Rep. Roger Wicker. His first official visit after being elected Congressman back in 1994 was to the Byhalia clinic.
“It was a good way to start my Congressional career,” he said. “It has been a delight to work with this organization for 12 years.
“We’re involved today in government at its best - local, state and federal.
“When we get up in the morning, as public officials, our concern should be to improve the quality of life for our citizens. That’s what this center is all about.”
Wicker referred to Sheffel’s earlier comments.
“It’s absolutely gratifying to see the funds that we appropriate are being used to affect lives at the local level,” he said.
He is also pleased with a recent funding increase on the national level for community health centers.
“I’m a strong supporter of this concept, and I’m glad that support goes all the way to the top, to the President of the United States,” Wicker said.
There are 22 community health centers in the State of Mississippi. Byhalia Family Health Center, a non-profit private corporation founded in 1979, serves more than 11,000 patients annually representing 34,540 patient visits.
“This clinic here in Byhalia is a model for other communities,” Wicker said.
“Celebrating Patient Voice and Community Choice” is the theme of this year’s national campaign to highlight the important role played by the volunteer patient majority community boards, which are a unique feature of health centers.
“The people on this local board, they know the local needs and how to direct funds,” Wicker said. “It’s an award-winning program.”
No two health centers are alike in America, but they cannot receive federal support without the establishment of a “patient democracy.” Each volunteer patient majority board shapes the delivery of health care to its own community, and determines the range of affordable services the health center will provide – whether it’s dental care, mammograms, counseling, or education and outreach for chronic conditions such as diabetes and hypertension. Today, 15 million people rely on a community health center as their family doctor and health care provider of choice.
Pfizer’s “Sharing the Care” patient assistance program was also highlighted during Saturday’s celebration. The program has provided the patients of Byhalia Family Health Center and Mt. Pleasant Family Health Clinic with 55,905 prescription medications, valued at $2.8 million. The State of Mississippi has received over $36.1 million worth of free Pfizer prescriptions.
“Community health centers have a friend in Pfizer,” said Robert Pugh, executive director of the Mississippi Primary Health Care Association. “The cost-saving doesn’t tell the story of the overall impact of this program.”
McKinney said the Byhalia clinic’s service area is officially named as Marshall, Tate and DeSoto counties, but “we have reached beyond those three counties over the past few years with our service to veterans.”
She said Wicker proposed special legislation that strongly urged the Memphis VA to enter into a contract with the Byhalia Health Center to provide primary care to veterans in the area.
Other speakers of the day included Carl DeBerry, chairman of the board of directors; Bob Carrington, vice mayor for the Town of Byhalia; Kimberly Pratt, health care representative with Pfizer; and Doug Sullivan, director of Sen. Thad Cochran’s Jackson office. W.D. Fitts, a member of the board of directors, led the Pledge of Allegiance. Rachel Webb sang The Star Spangled Banner. Albert Lay, another board member, led the attendees in prayer.
Dr. Clifton Rodgers, clinical director, presented scholarships to Coneshia Blackmon, Crystal McAlexander, Jayne Erwin and Alex McClarty. Normally, he said, the Byhalia Family Health Center only awards one scholarship but this year went with four because of the “overall talent of these four young people.”
The four-hour celebration also included on-site health professionals to answer health-related questions, free food and refreshments and family fun festivities.
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