An inaugural fundraising event set for Saturday to benefit the newly expanded HAWC Community Health Centers will help pay for this year’s merger with clinics formerly operated by St. Mary’s Mission Outreach. Earlier this year, administrators from HAWC, which provides primary care health services to about 66,000 northern Nevadans who cannot afford it, began talking to administrators from St. Mary’s in charge of two fixed clinics and four mobile clinics when it became apparent St. Mary’s would be sold to a for-profit company. With the common purpose of serving people in need, the St. Mary’s division was brought under the HAWC umbrella. The merger became official July 1, bringing with it 65 employees and an additional $6 million in expenses. Although both programs are nonprofit, no additional federal funding came with the merger and they need to fill a gap of about $600,000 to meet their bottom line.
“We depend on our community because the health of our community depends on what we do,” said HAWC CEO Dr. Dan Ahearn.
With the joining of the HAWC and former St. Mary’s programs, Ahearn expects annual patient visits to jump to about 100,000. The new $15 million annual budget is just to keep the lights on and doors open, and does not take into account upgrades, repair or replacement of expensive medical equipment or facilities. But HAWC’s struggles to keep its programs operating are a reflection of the population it serves.
“The folks we see tend to have that that blood pressure problem for a while or that diabetes problem for a while,” Ahearn said, “and if it comes down to the point of seeing us for care versus putting some food on the table because they’re working their third job, they’re going to work that third job before they come to see us or have their teeth cleaned.”
Michael Johnson, chief operating officer of Community Health Alliance, said the population served by the clinics has a higher level of anxiety and lower level of knowledge about how to manage their own health and how to navigate the health care system. Things like where to go, how to fill out paperwork, where to get medications or even what to say to a doctor are all foreign to them and far less important than more basic questions.
“We’ll figure it out right behind the landlord pounding on the door and the kids’ school counselor calling and saying the kids haven’t been in school and the car just broke down and there’s no food in the refrigerator,” Johnson said. “Where’s it going to get in the line? It’s going to get pushed way down.”
An important aspect of the mobile clinic is providing dental care to children from low-income families. Debbie Avansino, a clinical aide at Rita Cannan Elementary School, said the vans have been coming to her school for several years to clean children’s teeth, insert sealants and give fluoride treatments. As long as parents give permission, Avansino said, children can receive treatment at no cost or, if extra work is needed, set up on a payment plan. Both second and sixth-graders used to receive the service, she said, but loss of funding has reduced it to just the second graders for the last few years. To lose the mobile dental service entirely would be a tremendous loss to children whose families do not or cannot provide it for them.
“Some of them have abscesses so bad they can’t go any further,” said Avansino, who has been at Cannan for 10 years.
Saturday’s inaugural Wine & Ribs fundraiser will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. at Bartley Ranch Regional Park, 6000 Bartley Ranch Road. Tickets cost $45 in advance or $50 at the door. Tickets can be purchased online at www.hawcinc.org, by calling 336-3048 or by visiting Whispering Vine at 3886 Mayberry Drive in Reno.