by Kathy Rivers

The Vine Hill Community Clinic and its four satellite sites have achieved status as a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) by the Department of Health and Human Services. The clinic is the flagship of the University Community Health Services (UCHS), a network of eight area health clinics, and the $650,000-a-year, three-year grant will go toward expanding services at Vine Hill and funding other health outreach efforts.

“Achieving designation as a federally-qualified health center opens many doors for our nurse practitioner and nurse midwife faculty to provide more services to more patients,” said Colleen Conway-Welch, Ph.D., C.N.M., Dean of the Vanderbilt University School of Nursing.        

For the past 16 years, the Vine Hill Community Clinic has been largely funded by VUSN as part of the School’s faculty practice. With the advent of the FQHC funding, Vine Hill will officially sever all financial and business ties with the School by the end of the calendar year and operate solely as a University Community Health Services clinic. VUSN faculty will continue to fill many of the primary care and specialty roles at the clinic under a professional services contract.

Senior Associate Dean for Faculty Practice and Acting Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer of UCHS Bonnie Pilon, D.S.N., R.N., and her team have been working toward FQHC status for nearly four years. 

“We had to be a completely community-based organization, so part of the journey in pulling together the application was having the support of all Vanderbilt entities to let go of their official connections to Vine Hill,” said Pilon. “We also had to provide extensive documentation about the population we serve.”

Pilon cites support and expertise from the Tennessee Primary Care Association and other community health centers in Tennessee as a big reason she believes that the funding was ultimately awarded.

The grant will go to expanded services at Vine Hill as well as throughout the UCHS system. Within in the next several months, the Vine Hill Community Clinic will offer dental services, double mental health support and some podiatry care (for patients with diabetes) and stay open six days a week. The Parthenon Towers site will expand operations to four days of primary care and one day of mental health care a week. The Fall-Hamilton School that operates in a high poverty area will receive a full-time nurse practitioner. The VandyCalls program, house calls in senior living areas, will add mental health services. OB/GYN services which were helped to expand under a state grant will now continue under the federal grant.

“Everything we have done has been strategic,” said Pilon. “This is exactly where we wanted to be. We will continue to stretch our dollars, but those issues are a little easier to address now.” 

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