Coastal Family Health Center: Angel Greer, CEO

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Throughout the healthcare industry, the role of a chief executive officer is changing to become more transparent, to provide open communication with all levels of staff, to have a more decentralized decision-making system, and to be more involved in the community. In light of impending reform, community involvement and partnerships with various providers and specialties is viewed as the future for all healthcare providers.

Coastal Family Health Center is a network of nine clinics and three mobile healthcare units along the southern coast of Mississippi. Coastal Family Health primarily serves populations in need and has been an important member of its community for more than 30 years. The center’s mission is to “serve our patients and contribute to building stronger and healthier communities in Mississippi.”

Chief Executive Officer Angel Greer said at times there can be a misconception in the private sector as to what it means to be a community health center. Coastal Family Health is known as a Federally Qualified Health Center, a nonprofit center that provides primary care in areas where care is needed but in short supply. While it is not a free clinic, Coastal Family Health Center works cooperatively with area free clinics to ensure a continuum of care for individuals experiencing extreme financial hardship.

“We receive some funding from the state and federal government and grants, but we are not 100 percent funded by these sources,” Greer said. “We offer affordable, quality care, but not free care. We are expected to operate as a business.”

Coastal Family has a strong history of providing quality care. As a community health center, it has always had to meet certain standards and report quality measures to federal and state associations. As this becomes the norm for other facilities, Greer said she is “glad to see the push in all healthcare organizations to report measures and improve the quality of care.”

Providing the best care to residents in need

Coastal Health provides a range of services to all of its area’s residents. It is committed not only to providing quality care that is accessible to everyone, but its mission is to provide access for individuals with common barriers such as lack of insurance, language, and transportation.

Coastal offers internal medicine, pediatrics, women’s health, dental care, optometry, and mental health services, as well as HIV care, homeless care, labs, and an in-house pharmacy. In addition to clinical services, the center has a range of social services to help patients receive the care they need.

“We see all vulnerable populations and offer transportation services, WIC, and translators,” Greer said.

Coastal Family provides discounts to patients based on income and household size. The center also offers deeply discounted prescription medications through its 340B in-house pharmacy.

Making technology a priority

Greer said another goal in planning for the future of community health centers is to upgrade all  centers within  the state  to an electronic medical record.

As a dedicated part of the community, Coastal Family is spearheading the state’s Mississippi Health Safe Net, the Health Center Controlled Network (HCCN). The partnership is comprised of 14 member community health centers working together to implement electronic health records at each and working toward achieving meaningful use through the tracking of patient population health.

Additionally, the HCCN seeks to offer the network data hosting and back up for data protection.  Grant funding for the HCCN ends in 2012, and the HCCN is working to develop a plan to sustain the work and support its current members. Greer said all facilities will have an electronic health record implemented at some stage and are poised to benefit from meaningful-use incentives provided by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Overcoming obstacles and planning for the future

As with all healthcare organizations, Coastal also suffers from budget cuts and lowered reimbursements. Greer said the center is analyzing every stage of the healthcare delivery process to  determine areas of improvement and ways to manage costs and improve reimbursement. The most recent analysis involved performing a coding audit that revealed some areas of improvement which when corrected will result in improved claim-processing efficiency.

Another challenge is recruiting talent to the area.

“We have already experienced a physician shortage, and it is difficult to recruit physicians who are willing to come to rural areas to meet the needs of  patients who are often without resources,” Greer said. “New physicians are searching for the most dollars and fail to consider the benefits of employment with a community health center. Coastal is a National Health Service Corps Site of Excellence. Physicians and other healthcare providers who serve in these centers can have their student debt lowered or forgiven. That is comparable to handing someone the amount of their student debt tax-free.”

Despite these challenges, the health center is looking toward the future and ways to continually improve care to the community. Coastal is planning to build a pediatric center that should be completed in late 2012. The center also works diligently to partner with community agencies and other healthcare providers in the area to ensure patient access to other resources.

“The additional benefit is that we are able to avoid duplication of effort,” Greer said.

It’s this attention to quality and belief in Coastal’s mission that propels Greer’s optimism for the future.

“As we move forward, it’s important to remain transparent and share information across the organization,” Greer said. “As we consider the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead, I pull in expertise from various areas to help prepare for the future. Providing healthcare from a mission-driven perspective is challenging in these tough economic and political times, but in my mind, it is the best way. This is my passion, one that I share with many others throughout the country.”

-by Patricia Chaney

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