North Coast Health started as a church-supported mission, but over the last 20 plus years, it has grown into one supported by the communities it serves, local businesses and area foundations.
Serving Lakewood, Cleveland and surrounding suburbs’ residents since 1986, the clinic provides free medical services to patients who have no insurance. It has also expanded its services to include Medicare and Medicaid patients.
Executive Director Lee E. Elmore has been with the clinic for 24 years and says it began as a joint effort between four churches.
“The four churches were Bay Presbyterian, Bay Methodist, St. Raphael Catholic Church and St. Christopher Catholic Church,” Elmore says. “We now have 10 churches that support us.”
Originally called North Coast Health Ministry, the name was changed to North Coast Health so as not to confuse people who thought it was a church.
“We conducted a survey, and when we asked people if they knew about us, some didn’t, and if they did, they thought we were a church,” Elmore says. “The word ‘ministry’ became a barrier to care, and we were concerned about that.”
New name, same focus
The clinic rolled out the new name in February.
“I think it’s made a difference, and I think people wouldn’t seek care in a place that they thought was a church. We provide direct care, but we also do referrals. We work very closely with community hospitals in the area,” she says.
The full-time staff of 17 includes a board-certified family practice physician, and two nurse practitioners serve as part-time employees. They also have volunteer nurse practitioners and family physicians who come to the clinic. Some of them also see patients in their offices and donate their fees.
In 2013, the clinic served 2,425 low-income men, women and children and provided 14,362 services ranging from 5,210 primary care visits on-site to 4,908 medication pick-up appointments.
Dr. Philip E. Tomsik is the medical director, and he sees patients in five examination rooms in the facility that NCH was able to purchase in 2001 with a grant from the Elisabeth Severance Prentiss Foundation. As the client demand grew, NCH bought and renovated a former medical office building across from the Lakewood Chamber of Commerce. Elmore’s office, along with the administrative team, is on the second floor of the old mansion that houses the chamber.
Support has come from foundations ranging from The Cleveland Foundation and the Parker Hannifin Foundation to organizations such as JP Morgan Chase and the City of Lakewood.
“When we were founded, we strictly saw uninsured patients,” Elmore says, “but now with health care reform, we went through a strategic planning process with the board. We now see Medicaid and Medicare individuals, but predominantly, the people we serve are uninsured.
“It’s important that we get folks on the plans for which they qualify,” she says. “That’s another piece of what we do and part of our mission. That just began this year. We just went through the process of being credentialed.”
The clinic recently received a high rating from the National Committee on Quality Assurance.
“We received Level 3 recognition, which is the highest recognition,” Elmore says with pride.
“We provide continuous quality improvement. We were the first free clinic in Ohio to achieve that recognition.”
Charity Navigator, America’s largest and most-utilized independent evaluator of charities, has awarded NCH its prestigious four-star rating for good governance, sound fiscal management and commitment to accountability and transparency. NCH is currently the only free clinic in Ohio with such a high rating and is one of only 12 out of 1,200 free and charitable clinics across the country to earn four stars.
There are no geographic boundaries to the care NCH provides. Elmore says 38 percent of the people seen are Lakewood residents. Cleveland residents make up 32 percent, while 24 percent come from other Cuyahoga County suburbs. The other 5 percent comes from Lorain County.
The national crisis in health care particularly affects the availability of prescription drugs for those who need them. In 2013, NCH dispensed $4.6 million in free prescription medicine.
“Each pharmaceutical company has a patient assistance program that requires an application,” Elmore says. “That’s medication for which we apply on behalf of our patients, and it comes from the pharmaceutical companies.”
Elmore says that more than 95 percent of all funds raised at NCH’s Celebration of Caring Gala go directly to patient care. The goal for this year’s Celebration of Caring is to raise $150,000 to continue to help those in need have access to health care, prescription medicine and home health supplies.
“Healing is a ministry,” she says. “We bring hope to those in our community who face almost unthinkable challenges. We are their lifeline.”
How to reach: North Coast Health, (216) 2289-7878 or www.northcoasthealth.org
North Coast Health’s annual Celebration of Caring Gala is set for Aug. 28 from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. at LACENTRE in Westlake. Tickets are $125 per person. For more information, call (216) 228-7878 ext. 114 or email [email protected].