Christ Community One of Many Relying on Community Help
By Millie Huff
When Augusta businessman Clay Boardman purchased the Widows Home and donated it to Christ Community in 2007, it was with the stipulation that it be renovated to become a medical facility to serve the low-income population. Without the continued support of the local business community, the faith-based non-profit organization would not be able to fill the gap in healthcare for the uninsured and low-income.
“The founding physicians of Christ Community had the vision to share the love of Christ by providing affordable, quality primary health and dental care to the underserved in our community,” said Ron Skenes, Director of Development for Christ Community. “Since we began providing services in 2007, we have grown from almost 3,800 patient visits per year to more than 20,000 patient visits per year in 2014.”
The Ann Boardman Widows Home opened in 2011, becoming the second clinic for Christ Community Health Services. The first floor of the building was renovated and now provides 12 exam rooms and an on-site laboratory. The front of the building originally faced Greene Street but has been reoriented to face Telfair Street, where a spacious parking lot was added. A staff of 13 provides family and internal medicine, pediatrics and dental care on a sliding fee based on household income and size, as low as $25 per visit. They also care for patients with Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance.
Since 1818, the Widows Home on Greene Street has been a place for those in need to seek service and care. Originally built as a medical facility, it was an appropriate home for Christ Community Health Center to expand its services from its first location on D’Antignac Street.
The historic site has a long history of caring for the underserved of our community, being the birthplace of both University Hospital and GRHealth Center. The original building opened in 1818 as the City Hospital, which later became University Hospital and moved to its current location. At City Hospital, Georgia’s first school of medicine opened its doors as the Medical Academy of Georgia in 1829, later to be renamed the Medical College of Georgia and moved to another building at the corner of 6th and Telfair Streets.
The current Widows Home structure was completed in 1887 and provided 42 rooms to shelter “needy women” and did so until 2003.
“Christ Community fills an important gap in the medical community,” Skenes said. “Uninsured and underinsured patients who would ordinarily either do without healthcare or seek care in emergency rooms have an affordable, accessible alternative. We strive to develop long-term relationships with our patients and become their primary source of healthcare for the entire family.”
Local hospitals recognize that Christ Community plays an important role in providing healthcare in our area by relieving pressure on emergency rooms. Their collaborative relationship is reinforced by the ongoing financial support of University Hospital and other healthcare providers.
“We are in the final stages of completing a $1.5 million Capital Campaign, of which we have $175,000 more to raise,” said Skenes. “University Hospital made a lead gift to help ensure we can meet our goal of expanding our services.
Once the capital funds are raised, the second and third floors of the Widows Home will be renovated. The second floor will become a physical therapy clinic, operated by PT interns from GRHealth, a patient education center for health presentations and classes, and office space for the medical staff.
The third floor will become an 8-chair dental clinic where the current staff dentist will be supplemented by dental students and residents from the GRU College of Dental Medicine.
Of the $4 million annual budget of Christ Community, only 40 percent comes from patient revenue. The other 60 percent comes from corporate, foundation and community donations.
“We couldn’t offer the healthcare that we do without the generous support of the business community,” said Skenes. “Large businesses can afford to provide health insurance for their employees. But many smaller businesses are unable to do so. Most part-time employees do not have access to group health insurance, regardless of the size of their employer.
“The businesses that support us recognize that we are here to help keep their employees healthy. Our services help reduce the cost of healthcare for everyone. That’s an impact that benefits us all.”
Patients come from a 16-county area of Georgia and South Carolina, but the majority of the patients are from nearby low-income areas of Augusta. Sixty-three percent of Christ Community’s patients fall below the Federal Poverty Level. For the physicians who work for Christ Community, serving the impoverished community is a ministry they are passionate about.
Husband and wife family physicians, Jeremy and Karissa Wilson, joined the team at Christ Community right after they completed their residency. Jeremy works full-time while Karissa works part-time, allowing her time at home with their two small children.
“We felt a calling from God to be a part of this ministry and are fortunate to be able to share our faith with our patients,” said Karissa Wilson, MD. “We regularly pray with our patients, which seems to give them quite a bit of comfort and encouragement.”
For the thousands of patients that depend on Christ Community for their health care, a successful completion to the capital campaign will mean a wider range of services and a greater capacity to serve those in need.
“Our biggest challenge is being able to accommodate new patients,” Skenes said. “We receive about 100 calls per week for new patient appointments but can only take about 20 per week. Continued support from the community means that we will be able to accept more patients and offer a wider variety of services. We are working to make our community healthier, one patient at a time.”