By Scott Rollett, MBA, C.M.P.E.
1996 was literally twenty years ago. But it sure doesn’t seem like that long ago to me. In fact, it feels just likeyesterday. Sometimes I scratch my head (where my hair used to be!) and wonder, can it really be 2016? But, indeed, 20 years has passed and the reality is that the world looks just a little bit different today than it did back then.
When I think back to what the world was like in 1996, I am in awe of how much things have changed in just 20 short years. In 1996, no one had smart phones constantly in their hands or on their person. In fact, lots of people didn’t even have a cell phone yet, and others had “car phones”. The internet was in its infancy and the world was enthralled with America Online. Facebook hadn’t even been dreamed up yet by then 12-year old Mark Zuckerberg. The only way your car could be “self-driving” was if you put it on cruise control. We loved our music back then just as much as we do today but we listened to it on our Sony Discman and lugged around our CD collections in large books with dozens of CD sleeves in them. We were thrilled when Microsoft came out with the Encarta encyclopedia CD which rendered our parent’s hardbound encyclopedia collections suddenly obsolete. The Google Guys had just graduated from Stanford so they were still a long way off from creating the world’s most prolific source of free, up-to-date information. On Friday and Saturday nights, we still headed to the local Blockbuster to rent some videos of the movies we saw the summer before. Gas was cheap, SUV’s were king, and life was good!
But also in 1996, Windrose Health Network was just an idea that had yet to be born. Johnson County, Indiana is located directly south of Indianapolis and Marion County, Indiana. Although access to medical care was plentiful in northern Johnson County and extending down to Franklin, it was non-existent in the southern half of Johnson County. In fact, the southern portion of Johnson County was (and still is) designated as a Medically-Underserved Area (MUA). So a handful of citizens from the town of Trafalgar, working with Johnson Memorial Hospital, set out on a path to change that.
A former bar on the corner of State Road 135 and State Road 252 was purchased and renovated into a 3-exam room Rural Health Clinic (RHC). Marc Hackett was hired as the Office Manager (Marc is now the Executive Director of Jane Pauley Community Health Center) and Judy Jacobs was hired as a Medical Assistant (Judy is now WHN’s Director of Outreach and Community Relations). Marc and Judy worked feverishly over a period of about two weeks to get the new Trafalgar Family Health Center ready for Opening Day. The TFHC had not yet hired any clinicians, but a rotation of physicians from Johnson Memorial Hospital were happy to staff the clinic in the early days. In early December of 1996, on the TFHC’s first day of operations, the 3-person team of Judy, Marc, and Dr. Simon Feng saw a total of eight patients - - several of which are still patients today! If you didn’t have health insurance, the cost of an Office Visit was $6.
The new clinic was a huge success and soon it hired its first full-time clinician - - Nurse Practitioner, Dena Barger. Now many people in Trafalgar, Indiana had never heard of a Nurse Practitioner in 1997 and some people came to see her just to check her out and see what this was all about. The clinic continued to grow and soon it expanded into the adjacent space and added more full-time clinicians - - Nurse Practitioner, Lisa Marrero, and Family Medicine physician, Dr. Hong Tang. Nurse Practitioner, Kathy Hendershot had a full-time job at Methodist Hospital, but was willing to work Saturdays at the new clinic. Just a few years later, Dr. Michael Chitwood joined the practice - - and continues to practice there today.
In 2002, the organization built a second RHC in Edinburgh, Indiana. Nurse Practitioner, Glenda Wendling (Glenda continues to see patients at WHN’s Hope Center), and Family Medicine physician, Dr. Julio Sanchez, were hired to staff that clinic - - the Edinburgh Family Health Center - - which opened in July of that year. With two clinics now, the organization changed its name to the Edinburgh / Trafalgar Family Health Centers (ETFHC) and it was off to the races!
At that point in time, the ETFHC was still under the guidance and control of Johnson Memorial Hospital. But that began to change in late 2003 when the ETFHC was awarded a New Access Point grant by the Bureau of Primary Health Care (BPHC) and officially became a Federally-Qualified Health Center (FQHC). Now becoming an FQHC has its own set of rules and regulations and one of those rules is that the FQHC must be fully independent and directed by a Board of Directors made up of a minimum of 51% patients. Further, of the remaining non-patient Board Members, no more than 10% can be employed in the field of health care. So it was at this juncture that the ETFHC had to formally separate from Johnson Memorial Hospital to become a fully, independent organization. On December 1, 2003, the ETFHC hired Dr. Michael Kolenda to be its new CEO - - a role which he still fulfills today.
Dr. Kolenda brought with him a new vision for the ETFHC of growth and expansion. While some thought the ETFHC’s mission was complete with (2) Health Centers in the southern part of Johnson County, Dr. Kolenda encouraged others to envision taking the mission of healthcare to the medically-underserved to any community that needed it. This was bold thinking back in 2004 for the fledgling organization. Although it had, by this time, been around for eight years, it had been heavily dependent upon the support of Johnson Memorial Hospital to sustain its operations. When the ETFHC became fully independent in 2004, it brought with it a fresh set of challenges.
But the staff met the new challenges with creativity, ingenuity, and a steely resolve. Soon opportunity knocked again. The town of Hope had not had a physician in its community since the mid-1980’s. Town leaders approached the ETFHC about the possibility of opening up a Health Center to help take care of the town’s population. Partnering with the Community Center of Hope, the ETFHC was able to open a small, (2) Exam Room clinic in a 900 square foot space within the Community Center in September 2006. At first the clinic was only able to be open on a part-time basis with a myriad of part-time medical providers. But soon, it became clear that patient demand warranted more hours of service and a steady clinician. At that point, Dr. Cindi Yantz joined the Hope Family Health Center as its first full-time medical provider. That clinic continued to grow and in 2010, with the help of President Obama’s Stimulus Package, the ETFHC purchased some land south of town just off of State Road 9 and constructed a new Health Center that was nearly 9,000 square feet in size - - 10 times bigger than the original space! That expansion allowed the ETFHC to hire Nurse Practitioner, Julie Snyder, and also add (2) Family Medicine physicians and a pediatrician, as Dr. Yantz went on to become the full-time Medical Director.
But before that expansion happened in Hope, opportunity was also knocking on the South Side of Indy. With financial support from Adult and Child, Inc. and Community Health Network, the ETFHC opened an (8) Exam Room Health Center near the corner of Madison Avenue and Stop 12 Road in October 2008. Initially, that clinic opened with pediatrician Dr. Lourdes Geise, a nurse practitioner, and a physician on-loan from Community Health Network. Patient demand there exploded and soon the Countyline Family Health Center took over the entire 2nd floor of the building it was in. Along the way, Drs. Margarita Wiersema, Aileen Puno, Praveen Rajanahalli, and Aris Abeleda joined the practice along with some Prenatal Care providers from the IU Family Medicine Residency Program. Within only a few years, Countyline quickly became the ETFHC’s busiest Health Center. This was largely due to both the population density of the Indianapolis area as well as the large number of Burmese refugees which began settling in the area in 2008, 2009, and 2010. As a whole, the medical community on the South Side of Indy was unprepared to treat these large numbers of non-English-speaking patients. With its mission to provide healthcare services to the poor, the working poor, and the medically disenfranchised, these patients quickly felt at home at Countyline Family Health Center.
Now by 2009, with (4) Health Centers in operation, it no longer made any sense for the organization to be called the Edinburgh / Trafalgar Family Health Centers. The ETFHC’s management team and Board set out to find a new name that better-suited the growing organization. Several names were proposed but none fit as well as Windrose Health Network. WHN - - as the organization came to be called - - was looking for a name that both better-defined it geographically and also connoted its mission of creating a better life for its patients through the provision of affordable, high-quality health care services. Thus, the ETFHC officially became Windrose Health Network that year and the tagline “Leading You to Better Health” was adopted.
By the end of 2010, after only 6 years as an independent organization, WHN had officially doubled in size in nearly every way. Its two Health Centers became four. The 5,500 patients receiving 18,797 outpatient visits became 12,333 patients receiving 37,046 outpatient visits. Its staff had grown from approximately 32 people to 71 people. But the growth didn’t stop there. Demand for its services remained strong at each of its Health Centers and WHN continued to try to meet that demand to the best of its ability.
In 2013, the Franciscan Alliance very generously donated a facility in Franklin, Indiana to WHN. The donation was very timely and helped WHN meet not only a growing shortage of primary care physicians in Franklin, itself, but it also helped WHN solve its need for more administrative space for its ever-expanding staff. After completely renovating that facility, WHN moved its Edinburgh Family Health Center to Franklin in March of 2014 and repurposed the Edinburgh facility as an Administrative Center. In November of 2015, WHN opened a Convenient Care Center in the other half of the Franklin facility to be able to offer Same Day, Walk-In services for its patients.
In the meantime, patient demand on the South Side of Indianapolis continued to grow and it became clear that the Countyline Family Health Center practice would need to relocate. Soon, a decision was reached to split the practice into two separate practices which would allow both to continue to grow. After a hectic summer, WHN opened a new Countyline practice in October 2015 and followed that with a new Epler Parke practice in December of 2015.
At this writing, on December 4, 2016 - - almost exactly 20 years after WHN saw its first patients in Trafalgar - - WHN continues to grow. By the end of this year, WHN’s clinicians will have delivered more than 70,000 outpatient visits to over 20,000 patients and there is no sign of slowing down. Although the future is perhaps unknowable, one thing is absolutely clear: for the past 20 years, WHN has fulfilled unmet healthcare needs in the communities that it serves. God willing, WHN will be here for the next 20 years, still meeting the needs of the medically-underserved.
In conclusion, let us simply say thank you to all who have been a part of Windrose Health Network for the past 20 years. To our staff, thank you for your daily hard work and dedication which has both carried us through hard times and also allowed us to grow and flourish. To our Board Members, both past and present - - thank you for your faithful service and for believing in an idea and a vision that, through the hard work of many, has become a reality. But most of all, thank you to our patients for allowing us the privilege to care for you and your families - - it is the greatest honor of all.