|Health center’s money woes threaten care for the indigent|
|If C.W. Williams folds, it’ll leave a gap in social safety net|
|Published Thursday, July 3, 2014 6:03 am|
C.W. Williams Community Health Center’s shaky financial prognosis has created uncertainty in Mecklenburg County’s medical care net.
|Mary Diallo (left) signs in for an appointment at C.W. Williams Community Health Center in this October 2013 file photo. Chardell O’Neal, right checks on Diallo’s appointment. Mecklenburg County has cut off the center’s funding due to mounting debt, which has resulted in staff layoffs, payroll delays and shorter operating hours.|
The federally-financed health center, which treats low-income and indigent patients, is running out of cash. Mecklenburg County is withholding $97,500 in homeless services money because the center hasn’t produced an audited financial statement for the 2013-14 fiscal year.
Last month, County Manager Dena Diorio recommended shifting nearly $271,000 to Charlotte Community Health Clinic, a free program financed by Novant Health. Without an infusion of money, C.W. Williams could shut down by August.
Half of its employees have been laid off and payroll has been deferred.
The East Boulevard location is closed, its pharmacy shuttered in the process. Hours at the Wilkinson Boulevard site have been cut.
“We definitely need C.W. Williams,” said Don Jonas, executive director at Care Ring, a low-cost clinic that serves 7,000 clients annually. “We need a high-functioning, federally-qualified health center in our community because of the scale of people, the numbers of people they’re serving. They’re absolutely essential. No one agency could take on all of what C.W. Williams has been doing.”
Without it, many of C.W. Williams’ clients – specifically the poor, elderly and homeless – will opt for hospital emergency rooms. Preventive care will be more difficult to access.
Attempts to reach C.W. Williams Executive Director Leon Burton were unsuccessful.
Mecklenburg Commissioner George Dunlap said he encouraged Diorio to put aside $390,000 in a provisional account should C.W. Williams present an audit and recovery plan. To date, the county hasn’t received a response from clinic officials.
“Where they are in meeting those (criteria), I don’t know,” said Dunlap, who said he has met with Burton. “At this point, there’s nothing more the county can do.”
Commissioner Bill James, in an email to The Post, suggested the center’s dire situation shouldn’t be relieved with public funds.
“They don’t just need an ‘audit’ they need a CLEAN audit and they won’t have it,” James wrote. “They have been lying to the Commission, the public, and the media for years. Admittedly, staff should have caught it and stopped the flow of money to them when this first came up. I don’t believe there is any sugar daddy that will bail them out.…
“They need bankruptcy protection to stop the losses and get out from under those leases and taxes they owe – and that isn’t our problem.”
C.W. Williams, which opened in 1981, has long served Charlotte’s low-income residents as a primary- and preventive care facility. The center is named after the late Dr. Charles Warren Williams, its first medical director and administrator. Williams, who became the first black surgeon at Charlotte Memorial Hospital (today’s Carolinas Medical Center), died in 1982 at age 58.
“They had a black hospital (Good Samaritan) but things were not updated or the best,” Williams’ widow Vivian told The Post in 2011. “Charlotte was at the time in need of doctors on the west side and he sought out black doctors to work here. What I really admired about him was he was an excellent surgeon, but he wasn’t only into his profession. He was very much into the community and the needs of the community.”
The center’s primary care services include diabetes management, HIV/AIDS, women’s health and mammography – breast health screening in collaboration with the Mecklenburg County Health Department. It also conducted a children’s fitness program, a pharmacy and a homeless health care. But the clinic’s financial distress has prompted clients to move on to programs such as Care Ring, which is taking on C.W. Williams’ women’s chronic disease management program. MedLink, a consortium of low-cost health care, have held talks to reposition themselves to pick up the slack.
“We’ve been talking a lot amongst ourselves about what we can do and how we can handle this,” Jones said. “We’ve started to see bits and pieces of what C.W. Williams was doing being carved out for various people in the safety net.”
The net would be strengthened with a healthy C.W. Williams. The clinic will need to get its finances in order as well as aggressive leadership.
“I was really impressed with the new director,” Dunlap said of Burton. “He desired to work with them even though he understood the situation they were in. He at least expressed to me that he had the background to be able to bring the organization back. I think he has the skill set that’s necessary.”
Said Jonas: “I’m very hopeful they’ll be able to get the support from the public sector and private sector so they can continue to do business. If not, we’ll need to have a thoughtful, strategic community plan about how we aggressively and intentionally carve out pieces of what they were doing for others in the community.”
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