Good hygiene is a foundation of good health.
So when some folks in the tiny Arkansas town of Gould struggled to find places to wash their clothes, St. Elizabeth Health & Dental Center added washers and dryers to their long list of provided services. As a patient-centered medical home (PCMH), they recognized it’s just one more way to keep people healthy.
PCMH, a program of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), encourages primary care clinics to deliver evidence-based care to patients through innovation and a holistic approach. Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield brought the PCMH program to Arkansas and is proud to be one of the payers who reward participating clinics that do well in the program.
A matter of health and self-esteem
“Wearing soiled clothing can actually affect your health, not to mention your self-esteem,” said Brenda Jacobs, D.N.P., APRN, chief executive officer of the Daughters of Charity Services of Arkansas, which operates the clinic and another in nearby Dumas. “Yet we saw that for too many of our patients, a washer and dryer were ‘luxuries’ they simply could not afford, and our community has no laundromat. We decided it was worthwhile for us to give patients greater peace of mind and self-esteem to be able to fulfill this basic need for themselves and their families.”
Patients have responded to the service with gratitude, and a handful of people come each day to use the two sets of washers and dryers for the nominal fee of 50 cents a load. But laundry access is just the beginning of what the clinic offers.
A changing community
Gould’s population (755) is less than half of what it was 20 years ago (1,600+), and abandoned and crumbling buildings dot the landscape as an endless procession of heavy-laden tractor-trailer rigs speed by on U.S. Highway 65. “I think it is extremely important to meet patients exactly where they are,” Jacobs said. “Gould is an economically depressed area with absolutely no local access to a grocery store – except for the one convenience store, which, from a health perspective, has all of the wrong kinds of food.”
The clinic’s location on the highway perfectly illustrates Jacobs’ point: The lone convenience store sits a few dozen yards north, and a defunct Foodliner store, vacant for about 10 years now, is the next neighbor to the south.
A bright spot
Yet, here in this fading community is a beacon of progressive healthcare. The clinic is such a light that it has become a gathering place and a community lifeline.
As part of its holistic philosophy, the clinic offers family medicine, dental care, a full-service wellness center, pharmacy assistance, social services, Hispanic medical interpretation, a patient advisory committee, a community liaison and a community garden where anyone can come and pick healthy foods.
Part of the Gould “family”
So why do all this in Gould? “It’s pretty easy to see that the people here in Gould really need what we’re doing,” Jacobs said. “People in this community look at us as part of their family, and we feel the same way.”
A vibrant spirit
Residents echo Jacobs’ family metaphor and say the clinic is a crucial part of community life.
Arutha White started coming to the Wellness Center about five years ago. “After I retired, I didn’t want to just sit around and do nothing,” White said. “I was not eating healthy, so I was overweight. I’ve lost about 20 pounds and kept it off. I had a knee-replacement surgery, and now, it’s like I never had surgery.”
“I am 70 years old, but I feel like I’m 40,” said Clem Arnold. “Coming here has been really good for me. And with the people here, you can feel the love when you walk in the door.”
“Our whole reason”
Plans for the clinic’s future include an eye clinic, expanded social work services and remotely delivered psychiatric care through a partnership with the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) in Little Rock.
But regardless of what new developments the future might hold, Jacobs is confident of one thing. “We will always be working to make life better for the people of Gould,” she said. “That is our whole reason for being here.”