Megan Downey, an AmeriCorps VISTA program coordinator with the Moab Free Health Clinic, answered residents' questions during the Feb. 7 Strong Kids Expo at the Old Spanish Trail Arena. The clinic reported a continued growth in services last year, according to new executive director Beth Joseph. [Photo by Rudy Herndon / Moab Sun News]

More and more people are signing up for private health insurance, while Utah’s governor is pushing for a plan to help those who are too poor to receive federal subsidies, yet can’t qualify for Medicaid, either.

Despite those trends and developments, Moab Free Health Clinic Executive Director Beth Joseph sees a long-term need for the kinds of services that her facility offers local residents.

“It’s a big enough gap to keep us busy, and I think it will continue to be so, especially as we take care of folks with these chronic needs and whatnot,” she said Feb. 6.

In a sign of growing demand for those services, the clinic logged more than 1,200 patient visits in 2014 – a 60 percent increase over the previous year’s numbers.

Joseph links the increase to repeat visits from patients who are seeking more comprehensive medical care, as opposed to urgent care or drop-in clinic services.

“We’re seeing people multiple times, helping them through more and more complex medical issues and connecting them to services,” she said.

On a typical Friday morning, for instance, care coordinator Kelley Beh and her assistant worked with a Spanish language interpreter to help a patient address some fairly complicated diabetes-related problems. Before the woman left the clinic, they made sure that she receives the right medications she needs to manage her condition.

“That’s the perfect example of where we’re moving as a clinic, from … acute, simple solutions (and) sending people on their way, to this really comprehensive care coordination,” she said.

To do so, the clinic relies on a network of volunteer physicians, specialists, registered nurses and others.

Last year alone, almost 70 people volunteered more than 2,000 hours of their time, chipping in with the equivalent of $62,260 in services.

With more regular volunteers working on a monthly and weekly basis, patients are able to see the same person each time they drop by the clinic.

In other cases, the clinic is able to connect local residents with charity care services in Salt Lake City and Grand Junction, Colorado.

Clinic staffers or volunteers will start each consultation by trying to direct patients through the federal Medicare and Medicaid programs or private insurance providers, and they’ve had some success over the last year.

“We start first by trying to get them enrolled in insurance, so that they can use a private provider – so that they can use one of the doctors’ offices in town,” Joseph said. “That’s our ideal, but if that is cost-prohibitive and they’re in that gap between Medicaid eligibility and private insurance eligibility … then we go ahead and serve them.”

Since it was established in 2008, the clinic has also forged strong partnerships with Moab Regional Hospital, the Moab Valley Multicultural Center and the Grand County School District, among others, according to Joseph.

“It’s the partners and the volunteers that drive everything we’re able to do,” she said.

Last year, a grant from the Utah Department of Health allowed the clinic to bring mental health counseling services to local schools.

According to the clinic’s annual report for 2014, 20 to 30 students received free counseling services on a weekly basis. In addition, six counselors offered more than 200 individual sessions last year to uninsured or underinsured adults, the report noted.

Moab Free Health Clinic Board President Danette Johnson said the new addition will empower the schools to help students find the mental health services they may need.

“I understand how important that is, and I really think that will make a difference to a lot of kids,” Johnson said.

Thanks to $10,000 each from the Episcopal Diocese of Utah and the Canyonlands Health Care Special Service District, the clinic was also able to hire a part-time registered nurse and a part-time certified nurse’s aide.

Canyonlands Health Care Special Service District Board chair Doug Fix said he believes the clinic is there to help those who fall through the cracks, for whatever reason.

“They are really trying to fill the gaps that are there,” Fix said.

In addition to the special service district’s financial commitment, the clinic found enough grant money to fund the full-time executive director position that Joseph has occupied since last July.

Johnson said the addition of Joseph has changed the dynamics of the clinic’s operations, giving it the long-term sustainability it had been missing beforehand.

The transition has been seamless, in her words.

“Her learning curve has not been that steep, and she’s grasped the information I’ve dumped on her,” Johnson said.

Before Joseph joined the clinic, she served as the city of Moab’s deputy recorder for five years, while volunteering in the community on the side.

As the new head of the clinic, Joseph said she’s focused on diversifying its funding sources, which could ultimately make it less dependent on one-time cash infusions or restricted grant funds.

In 2014, small and large donors alike almost doubled the amount of money they gave to the clinic during its fundraising campaign. Businesses like the Best Western Plus Canyonlands Inn also came forward with “in-kind” contributions such as free hotel rooms, while restaurants handed out gift certificates.

Every one of those contributions helps the clinic with its recruitment efforts, Joseph said.

For more information, contact the Moab Free Health Clinic at 435-259-1113, or go to moabfreehealthclinic.org.

Staff, volunteers focus on comprehensive medical care

It’s the partners and the volunteers that drive everything we’re able to do.