Michael HowlettStaff Writer
September 25, 2012
How many times have you heard someone lament about “the good old days,” and wish they could revisit that simpler and cheaper time? Well, thanks to a dedicated mother-daughter team of nurse practitioners, people in Cana and the surrounding area can get part of the way there.
Everhart Primary Health Care opened its doors at 1236 Bear Trail Road on July 16 with the intent of serving the people of the area with affordable and convenient health care. The non-profit clinic, which is the only one of its kind in Virginia, is the realization of a dream of Dee Everhart and her daughter Carole.
The Everharts are very familiar with medicine. Dee has 55 years of nursing experience, many of which have come during her marriage to Dr. Carlton Everhart, now retired. More recently, she worked at HealthStat, a firm that provides occupational health care in this region. Carole has 28 years of nursing experience, and is presently employed by Southwest Virginia Training Center. Both will receive their doctorals in May.
Dee says Cana is the perfect area for the unique clinic, which provides a homey atmosphere, late weekday and weekend hours, a therapy dog and does not accept Medicare, Medicaid or insurance cards.
“A lot of people in this area make too much to be on Medicaid, aren’t ready for Medicare and make too little to afford health insurance,” she says. “We opened the clinic for them because we love our community. These people are the salt of the earth, they work so hard. We want people to feel better for us having been here. We want to give them quality health care at a price they can afford.”
Affordable health care is the reason behind the two’s decision to accept only cash, debit cards or credit cards – they can provide medical care at a cheaper rate if they are not involved in the costly bureaucracy of insurance and government programs.
“If we accepted insurance, the amount of the administrative costs and the cost of paying people we would have to hire would make treatment too expensive. In order to recoup those costs, we would have to charge more than people can afford,” says Carole. “So, we decided to set our office fees at a normal co-pay of $40.”
If a patient does have insurance, Dee says the clinic would provide them with a receipt so they can file it with their health insurance company.
Carole adds that if a patient needs blood work or other simple tests, it usually costs under $20, with a culture being the clinic’s most expensive test at $30.
“Everybody ought to be able to get health care. You don’t have to take their last dime,” she adds.
If a patient needs more help than the mother-daughter team can provide, the clinic can consult with Dr. Barry Mayberry, who acts as the collaborating physician. They also have associated themselves with a network of specialists.
Even with the Everharts keeping their charges to a minimum, there are still people who can’t afford even those fees. What happens if a person needs treatment and has no money? The Everharts have that figured out.
“We had a man come in who said he was really sick, but didn’t have any money. I asked him, ‘Do you have a weed eater.’ He said ‘yes’, so I told him, ‘You can weed eat my bank and we’ll call it even,’” said Dee, adding that is not the only case when the clinic reverted to the bartering system. “It’s not a formal battering system, just sort of a give and take.”
Dee adds that those cases harken back to the early days of her husband’s practice in Mount Airy when he would sometimes receive vegetables, country ham, or “even moonshine” in exchange for his services.
“The community has been so good to us, so if I see someone who needs help, I’m going to help them,” says Dee.
“One of mom’s patients brought us 250 rose bushes to plant around the clinic, another brought cookies to our open house and several patients have brought us fresh vegetables,” says Carole. “So if someone needs something simple like having their blood pressure check, it’s free.”
Nowadays, if a person becomes ill, and he or she can’t see the doctor between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. on a weekday, a costly trip to the emergency room becomes necessary. That’s why the clinic has extensive hours of 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. on Saturday and 1-5 p.m. on Sunday.
“People just can’t afford to take off work to go to the doctor,” says Carole, adding that “If you go to the emergency room, it’ll cost you $300 to $500 just to look at the door.”
The clinic does not look like the usual medical facility, but more like someone’s home, which is precisely the effect the Everharts are going for.
“We have a fireplace, chairs on the porch, it looks like a home,” says Dee, who feels the “homey” atmosphere is more conducive to treating patients.
Presently, the clinic is seeing “about eight patients a day,” according to Carole, but “to break even” the patient count needs to be around 12 to 15. If the clinic could average between 15 and 20 patients a day, Dee says she and Carole “could get paid.”
Although Dee and Carole have put a great deal of work into the clinic and received much help from the community, as well as local businesses such as BB & T and Southern Community banks, they admit it wouldn’t be a reality if not for a key benefactor, Dr. Carlton Everhart, who donated the land for the clinic.
“This clinic is dedicated to my father, Carlton Everhart, who was a true country doctor. He even made house calls,” says Carole. “It is also dedicated to my brother, Tim. He is doing well now, but he was diagnosed with leukemia and had to have a stem cell transplant.”
The many scary and uncertain moments Dee went through with Tim is one reason she tries to take time just to listen to patients’ concerns.
“Sometimes, a patient needs to know that someone else is suffering like they’re suffering,” she said.