WINCHESTER — When Katrina McClure became executive director of Winchester's nonprofit Sinclair Health Clinic in July 2019, she had no way of knowing that just eight months later, COVID-19 would compel her to re-evaluate all of the clinic's operations.

"She had an exceptionally clear vision for what she wanted," Jeff Stern, director of community engagement for Sinclair Health Clinic at 301 N. Cameron St., said on Tuesday.

As McClure figured out ways for her staff and volunteers to safely work with clients without catching the coronavirus, she decided to also review the clinic's long-standing procedures, starting with an evaluation of the enrollment process.

What she and her team discovered, Stern said, was that the nonprofit had gotten so bogged down by paperwork, bureaucracy and needless administrative practices that it sometimes took seven interactions before a new client could receive medical treatment or help with food and housing.

"We were like, why are we waiting [to provide help]?" Stern said. "If someone's hungry the day they come in to enroll, let's get them food that day. Let's hook them up with housing resources right away. Let's hook them up with transportation. Let's talk about whether they're in an abusive relationship and need to be moved someplace else."

Thanks to the way clinic officials streamlined the intake process — for one thing, staff is now extra diligent in ensuring new patients receive all the forms they need up front rather than making them come back repeatedly — it now only takes an average of two in-person or online interactions before a patient is fully enrolled, Stern said.

And McClure said the clinic doesn't wait for a client's third visit before it starts addressing his or her medical needs.

"As soon as people walk through the doors and talk to the first person they meet," she said, "we systematically go through and try to assess their food security and other pressing factors that influence their health and start addressing those right up front."

That's because Sinclair Health Clinic now strives to offer complete wellness solutions rather than simply treating illnesses and dispensing medications. If a patient is hungry because they can't afford food, McClure said, their dietary needs must be addressed before they can fully recover from whatever ailment or condition brought them to the clinic.

Many of the clinic's patients do not speak English, which presents another barrier to their health care. McClure said her nonprofit has overcome that obstacle by bringing in bilingual staff members.

"You feel more comfortable talking to someone who speaks your language," she said.

Today, about 75% of clinic employees who deal directly with patients speak two or more languages, McClure said.

Other improvements at the clinic, some of which were made possible thanks to funding from the Virginia Health Care Foundation, include expanded prenatal services, group care so expectant mothers can better support each other and a revised layout of the offices, exam rooms and pharmacy so clients can be treated more efficiently.

"I want this to be a clinic where I would want my best friends and family to go and be taken care of from top to bottom," McClure said.

Sinclair Health Clinic emerged from the pandemic this year stronger than ever and with nearly 2,200 clients — a thousand more than when McClure was hired and the highest number since the nonprofit first launched in October 1986 as the Free Medical Clinic.

Moving forward, McClure said the clinic's 17 staffers and approximately 150 volunteers hope to offer limited pediatric care for children 12 and older while connecting with more low-income patients who could benefit from its services.

"The people who are here care deeply and profoundly about the mission," she said. "They could work anywhere but they have chosen to work here because they believe all people should have access to life-saving healthcare services."

Sinclair Health Clinic provides free or reduced-cost medical services to Virginia residents who are uninsured or on Medicaid and earn up to 300% of the federal poverty income levels — currently $13,590 per year for an individual and $27,750 per year for a family of four.

"A lot of people qualify," Stern said. "More than you think."

To learn more about Sinclair Health Clinic, visit sinclairhealthclinic.org.

— Contact Brian Brehm at bbrehm@winchesterstar.com

(1) comment

Catherine Giovannoni

[thumbup]

Welcome to the discussion.

Comments are reviewed by moderators so they may not immediately appear. We appreciate your patience.