Filed Under:  Health & Wellness, Local, News

Common Ground Health Clinic in Algiers receives federally qualified health status

25th November 2013   ·   0 Comments

By Michael Patrick Welch
Contributing Writer

In September 2005, just after Hurricane Katrina, a small, ragtag group founded the Common Ground Health Clinic (CGHC) in the McDonough neighborhood of Algiers. This mobilization unit where healthcare workers, volunteers and activists aided community members that remained in the city and needed immediate healthcare services, has gone on to service over 60,000 cases.

For the last four years the CGHC has sought Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) status. This month the center was finally awarded that status, along with a grant of $758,333 for the next three years.

More people may be familiar with the Common Ground Relief in the Lower 9th Ward, which, since Katrina, has focused on relief and rebuilding efforts without any health-related programming. Though connected through their history as part of the Common Ground Collective, the relief center and the clinic have since separated into two similarly named entities.

“The Common Ground Health Clinic focuses on primary health care services for everyone. Everyone is eligible,” says CGHC’s Executive Director, Meshawn Tarver. “If their insurance doesn’t cover all the services we’ll still accept them. If they’re uninsured we accept them on a sliding pay scale based on their income. If they have private insurance we accept them as well. We are here for everyone.”

For the last eight years the clinic has offered primary care, dermatology, acupuncture, and medical interpreting, with referrals for cardiology. But its new federal status plus the new grant money means many improvements and expansions to come.

“Soon we’ll be expanding to provide pre-natal and pediatric services as well for the community,” says Tarver. “We have already started providing new mental health services and we’re looking into providing podiatry as well. We also have one new social worker that began early in November. So patients will now have access not just to medication but to the coaching they need to lead normal lives as much as possible.”

Unlike a regular clinic, Common Ground prides also provides several forms of wellness education. “We strongly feel that just having access to a provider is not enough. We pride ourselves on a more holistic model,” says Tarver. “Our approach to care includes educating and empowering our patients. We have always had cooking and gardening classes for the community, health and education programming, and a weekly women’s wellness group. In order to be healthy, people need access to fresh foods – which is why we also have a farmers market. People need to be educated about lifestyle changes they need to make.”

Tarver also stresses that the clinic provides services and education not from a place of authority but of compassion. “We take into consideration the individual’s culture, their language,” she says, “and the changes they want to make in their lives.” To that end, CGHC hopes to rely more in the future on professional ‘navigators.’ “We are getting three of our staff members trained to be navigators, to help educate the community about the Affordable Care Act, and empower them to enroll and understand it so they can take charge of their own healthcare.”

Tarver also hopes the grant means the clinic can stay open beyond its traditional 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on at least two weekdays per week, and hopefully starting on Saturdays as well. More than anything else, Tarver is excited for the clinic’s continuing sustainability as a result of its new federal status. “We hope to be able to renew the grant once it expires in three years; as an FQHC you can constantly renew it almost indefinitely,” she says. “And one of the great things about being an FQHC is that they require that you have a sustainable model, so as a clinic we’re not only going to receive this grant, we’re also going to increase our capacity, which will in turn generate more income so that we can remain here for years to come.”

This article originally published in the November 25, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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