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RADM Kerry Nesseler and CDR John Mallos of HRSA speak with Dr. Renee Milligan, George Mason University School of Nursing at HealthWorks CHC.
(Laura Sikes Photography for GMU)

Affordable Care Act Takes Hold in Virginia

In little more than two years, a fledgling community health center in northern Virginia has quietly transformed itself into a model of the modern “health home” envisioned by the Affordable Care Act, increasing its patient base by 30 percent in the process.

“HealthWorks For Northern Virginia” – founded in 2007 as the Loudoun Community Health Center – recently completed an $8.7 million HRSA-funded construction project on a 27,000-square-foot health center in Leesburg. The new center was made possible through funding from the Affordable Care Act.

HealthWorks is one of dozens of health centers nationwide to receive grants to expand capacity ahead of the 2014 insurance provisions of the Act – which will extend coverage to millions of Americans.

In a visit to the construction site in 2011, HRSA Administrator Dr. Mary K. Wakefield said the project “speaks volumes about the quality of the people who work here … and the tremendous need they are meeting every day.”

Patients from largely rural parts of Maryland, West Virginia and three surrounding Northern Virginia counties seek services at the center and its extension clinics in Herndon and Sterling.

Becoming a Health Home

Complete with an electronic health records system, HealthWorks is a fully integrated “health home” with medical, dental, behavioral health, optometry and pharmacy services all under one roof – a key goal of the new health care law – to allow for more efficient “patient-centered” care delivery and quality control.

In line with larger aims of the Affordable Care Act, HealthWorks also serves as a faculty practice, clinical training and research venue in partnership with the George Mason University School of Nursing, a long-time HRSA grantee.

The relationship came about when the Loudoun health center merged last year with the Jeanie Schmidt Free Clinic – a ten-year-old, non-profit, primary care provider -- to form HealthWorks. The merger incorporated a nurse-managed practice at the free clinic established by George Mason faculty and students through a continuing HRSA Nurse Education, Practice, Quality and Retention grant.

An ACA New Access Point grant last June supported the co-location of these services In Herndon. The university was one of 10 training institutions in the nation to receive the 3-year nursing grants in 2010.

Cutting costs; improving lives

“We are facing major cost issues in health care, nationally and locally,” said HealthWorks CEO Debra Dever, RN, MN. “What this model allowed us to do is bring together the years of clinical experience and community ties that Jeanie Schmidt had, along with the obvious expertise of George Mason, to cut costs and meet multiple needs.”

The “whirlwind of activity” since passage of the Affordable Care Act, Dever said, took HealthWorks from a grassroots operation that started with 5 employees in 2007 to a full-service provider today.

Meanwhile, George Mason continues to provide staff for the HealthWorks’ Herndon office – as the university seeks to address what it estimates will be a shortage of more than 3,000 nurses in Northern Virginia by 2020, while extending care to thousands of underserved families.

“Many of our patients are very low income, work multiple jobs and have very busy and challenging lives,” said Carol Jameson, MSW, Associate CEO at HealthWorks. “They have often been without access to health care for some time … it’s wonderful to see the difference in their lives once they do have access to comprehensive, integrated health care.”

Clinical training and research

Known as Partners For Access to Health Care (PATH), the George Mason project aims to increase the number of clinical training venues for nursing and nurse-practitioner students. The initiative is backed by the university, HRSA’s Division of Nursing and donations from such well-known local institutions as the Reston Hospital Center and Northern Virginia Health Foundation.

On the research side, a project led by master nurse-practitioner Dr. Kathy Dickman involved student nurses in developing best practices for the maintenance of chronically ill underserved patients with hyper-tension and/or diabetes. Dr. Joanne Iannitto, FNP, presented findings from the project at the recent 2012 NIH Science of Eliminating Health Disparities Summit. 

“To see all of these pieces come together so fast – the facilities, the patient care, the clinical training and research components -- is really quite remarkable in my experience,” said Dr. Renee Milligan, CRNP, Director of Nursing Practice and PATH program evaluator for George Mason. “It was HRSA funding that put us over the top, and it’s been good for both the students and patients.”

RADM Kerry Nesseler, Director of the HRSA Office of Global Health Affairs and Chief Nurse of the U.S. Public Health Service, led a delegation from five South Asia nations on a tour of HealthWorks on Jan. 31. The visit was part of a joint nursing initiative between the U.S. State Department, HHS and India’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

For more on HealthWorks For Northern Virginia exit disclaimer icon

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