$1.5 million grant 'dream come true' for midtown neighborhood clinic
By Matt Westerfield
Since its opening in the late 1990s, UNACARE has become a medical home for many residents of Jackson's midtown neighborhood who visit the School of Nursing's clinic regularly to manage their diabetes, seek prenatal care or just get a flu shot.
A $1.5 million federal grant recently awarded to UNACARE promises to result in a more robust clinic, able to expand its services to more community members and enhance its educational opportunities.
Pamela Helms, assistant professor of nursing and director of the clinic, said the grant will provide a much-needed boost.
"It's like a dream come true," Helms said. "We've operated UNACARE for a long time with very limited resources. This grant will allow us to expand our services to the community."
Scheduled to cover three years, the grant was awarded by the Department of Health and Human Services' Health Resources and Services Administration through an Affordable Care Act initiative to support community clinics across the nation with an emphasis on nurse-run clinics. Helms said UNACARE is one of only two locations in the southeast to receive one of the grants.
Helms wrote the grant proposal last year with fellow nurse practitioners Dr. Audwin Fletcher and Dr. Lisa Haynie, both professors of nursing.
"One of the big things the grant will allow us to accomplish is to drastically increase the number of patients we see," said Fletcher. "Faculty are limited in the amount of time spent at the clinic due to other faculty responsibilities. But most of us have committed to one or two days per week."
Since receiving the grant, the clinic has added a full-time nurse practitioner, a full-time medical office assistant and a registered nurse.
Sherrikee Causey, who came on board in December, is the clinic's first full-time staff nurse practitioner. Before graduating with her master's last year, Causey rotated through the clinic as a student nurse practitioner.
"It's a very good learning environment. That's why I wanted to come back," she said.
UNACARE faculty, staff and students include, from left, Dr. Lisa Haynie, Shonda Brown, Catrina Prather, Virginia Norquist, Sherrikee Causey, Carolyn Mitchell, Laurie Selman, Rochelle Anthony and director Pam Helms.
Part of the clinic's emphasis on education and exposing students to community-based care is demonstrated in the School of Nursing's requirement that all family nurse practitioner students must serve rotations at UNACARE.
"We are committed to increasing the number of students who rotate through here," Fletcher said. "The goal is requiring that all FNP students complete a minimum of 90 clock hours at the clinic. Similarly, all accelerated BSN students gain clinical experience at the clinic as well as many traditional students."
"I've always had a vision in the back of my mind of running a clinic one day," said Laurie Selman, a family nurse practitioner student. "I used to work in an outpatient clinic and I missed having that direct patient care. It's nice to be more involved.
"When I work with Pam, we sit down and discuss different options and treatments. She keeps me on my toes and helps me think."
Through a partnership with what is now the nonprofit group Midtown Partners, Inc., UNACARE opened in the neighborhood in 1998 with a goal to help improve a low-income, underserved part of Jackson.
UNACARE is part of an affiliation between the School of Nursing, Jackson Housing Authority, Walker Foundation and Baptist Health Systems, Helms said. Midtown Partners provides the funding for rent at the facility on North West Street.
"The other support we provide is mainly facilitating patient care, providing transportation," said Kristi Hendrix, Midtown Partners executive director. "We try to help them with any barriers between them and getting the health care they need."
Hendrix and Marcie Skelton, Midtown Partners vice president, are on the recently convened community advisory board for UNACARE. She said the mission of Midtown Partners is to promote social and economic revitalization of the neighborhood.
"And that's not just housing and education, but also health and well-being," Hendrix said. "We are working closely with Pam to get more patients to the clinic and raising awareness of it. We're kind of the middleman between the clinic and the residents of Midtown.
"Having a clinic in your backyard is the greatest thing."
Helms said the clinic provides opportunities for clinical education of nursing students at every level. And with the opportunities for research that are available, the clinic allows faculty to contribute to UMMC's three-part mission.
"UNACARE is the result of partnerships with a community of people," Helms said. "This grant allows us to do a better job of our contribution to that community."