Editor’s note: National Rural Health Day is Nov. 21, 2019. Throughout the month, we are sharing stories to highlight the challenges and good work being done to improve health care in rural America. This article originally appeared in the March/April 2019 issue of the New Hope Telephone Cooperative Communicator.
Maci Ikard, not yet 2 years old, looked wary as Dr. Libby Nord walked into the examination room. Nord pulled a stuffed brown rabbit from behind her back, and Maci broke into a smile. It was the child’s second visit that week, and she needed another breathing treatment for bronchitis.
Maci warmed up to the doctor and played with the rabbit as Nord listened to her lungs. By the time Nord started the breathing treatment, Maci held the nebulizer over her mouth and took the treatment easily.
Maci is one of about 1,000 patients at New Hope Children’s Clinic, and that visit was one of about 3,000 patient encounters last year. That’s up from 500 patient encounters in 2009, the year the clinic opened.
The nonprofit clinic on the campus of New Hope Elementary celebrates 10 years of service this year. The clinic has patients from Madison, Marshall and Jackson counties. Children from rural areas nearby, such as Grant and Guntersville in Marshall County and Woodville and Paint Rock in Jackson County, account for a large number of patients there, says the clinic’s executive director, Cindi Williamson.
About 80 percent of the clinic’s patients are covered through Medicaid, a state program that provides health insurance for eligible individuals. Very few other area pediatricians accept Medicaid.
“We’re filling a huge void in child care,” Nord says.
Caring For Patients
The clinic still sees patients for sick and well visits, but it’s not uncommon now for providers to see more complex cases, Nord says. One patient recently received a leukemia diagnosis at the clinic, got a referral to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and was admitted there in less than 24 hours.
The New Hope Children’s Clinic is for kids ages 18 and younger. While it’s on the grounds of the elementary school, it’s not specifically a clinic for the school. However, if a student who is a patient becomes ill, the youngster can be treated at the clinic that day.
The clinic also provides mental health care to an ever-growing number of young patients. “Taking care of children with mental health issues is more difficult through the lens of poverty,” Nord says. The clinic partners with Wellstone Behavioral Health’s Nova Center for Youth and Family, which has an extensive presence in public schools.
Now, two mental health counselors are based at New Hope Elementary. Not all students who see a counselor at the school are patients at the clinic, but those who are benefit tremendously because the counselors and physicians can work more closely to address these children’s needs.
Another need that has been addressed at the clinic is technology. With fiber internet through NHTC, the clinic now has electronic medical records and other benefits. The fast and reliable internet service also allows the clinic to explore options for telemedicine that weren’t possible before. “We are so excited about the possibilities of what we’re going to be able to do when it comes to telemedicine,” Nord says.
Filling A Gap
The clinic has come a long way since the beginning when Nord says her eyes were opened to the need. She had volunteered in a school-based clinic, but the clinics in the local schools closed.
As a pediatrician in private practice, she wanted to do more. “I felt like God wanted to use me in a different way,” she says. She began working at Huntsville Hospital for Women and Children’s pediatric emergency room. Her flexible shifts gave her more time at the clinic.
Nord’s church, Cove United Methodist, provided seed money to start the New Hope Children’s Clinic, and Huntsville Hospital also paid for some of the costs. The church still helps financially, she says.
The clinic provides treatment of acute injuries and illnesses, routine well-check visits, management of chronic medical problems such as childhood asthma, physical exams and health screenings, vaccines, sports physicals, laboratory testing, nutrition counseling and weight management, referral for follow-up specialty care, and health education.
When the clinic is closed on Fridays, the Madison County Health Department operates the county’s only satellite office for WIC, the Women, Infants and Children supplemental nutrition program for pregnant women, breastfeeding women, women who have recently had a baby and children up to 5 years old who are at nutritional risk. Many families can’t or won’t drive to Huntsville to the health department’s main office on Max Luther Drive for the service, Nord says.
“They might only have one vehicle, don’t have gas money or just can’t go that far,” she says. “There are so many barriers that prevent them from going. We’re so proud that we can be a part of helping more women, infants and children get the nutritional help they need. It doesn’t matter if you qualify for something. If you can’t access it, then it doesn’t matter. The program brings the service to where the people are.”
The clinic has filled many voids as it has grown through the years. Nord no longer works at the emergency room and devotes all her time to the clinic.
“It’s a privilege to be able to be a part of this community,” Nord says. “The community trusts us with their children, and we’ve earned that trust. It’s our goal to have healthy kids. They can’t learn if they’re sick.”
More About New Hope Children’s Clinic
Funding for New Hope Children’s Clinic, a nonprofit, comes from grants, donations, Medicaid reimbursements and fundraising activities.
The biggest fundraising event each year, Casino Night, is scheduled for March 29. For more information contact the clinic.
New Hope Children’s Clinic
156 Church Ave., New Hope, on the grounds of the elementary school.
Clinic hours: 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Thursday.
The health department’s WIC program for Women, Infants and Children operates in the building from 8 a.m.-4 p.m. on Fridays.