History

Our Creation

In the late 1990’s our founders, Drs. Russell Sacco and Irwin Perlmutter, began discussing the need for a free clinic to care for those without access to care in Henderson County, NC.  For several years, they networked with their peers, making the case, garnering support, and recruiting leadership who became the first steering committee.  Drs. Sacco and Perlmutter grew familiar with the free clinic movement in North Carolina and began to create a model for a local free clinic that would use volunteers to provide care to those in need.  The steering committee held public meetings to learn more about the needs in Henderson County and found that there were a significant number of adults who were not receiving medical care.  Early clinic leaders also found that there was a large group of healthcare professionals who were willing to give their time and talent to provide care.

Our Opening

On 13 December 2001, TFC opened its doors and saw its first patients at a walk-in Medical Clinic.  TFC saw seven patients that night and grew quickly through word of mouth.  The clinic initially met – and still meets – from 5 to 8 p.m. Thursday evenings.

Our Clinics and Clinical Services

Because the walk-in medical clinic saw many patients whose needs were not being met through other services, it quickly became clear that TFC needed to help “bridge those gaps”.  TFC added clinics specifically designed to bridge identified gaps in service.

  • 2002:  Diabetic Life Management Clinic to assist low-income diabetic patients in understanding and effectively managing their disease.
  • 2002:  Dental Extraction Clinic at Stokes Dental Center of Blue Ridge Community Health Services because resources for low-income adult dental patients were and continue to be limited.
  • 2003:  Orthopedic Clinic to work with patients who need more specialized orthopedic care.
  • 2004:  Eye Clinic, initially to provide screenings for patients of the diabetic clinic and later to accept referrals.
  • 2006:  Psychiatric Clinic in direct response to the closure of the county’s former safety net mental health provider; the clinic provides psychiatric appointments and medication management to those with mental health needs.
  • 2007: Pulmonary Clinic to work with patients who need more specialized pulmonary care, especially given the incidence of asthma in our community.  Our Pulmonary Clinic operated on-site for three years; currently pulmonary appointments are handled through our Community Case Management Program and occur in the pulmonologists’ office.
  • 2010:  Endocrinology Clinic which is the only resource for endocrinology services in Henderson County.
  • 2010:  Counseling which provides short-term (4-6 sessions) of therapeutic intervention.
  • 2010:  Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PMR) Clinic with the support of a physiatrist to work with patients who have chronic back and/or neck pain, using a non-narcotic, non-invasive approach.
  • 2011:  Smoking Cessation program in collaboration with the Henderson County Department of Public Health to provide group support and medication assistance to those persons who are ready to be free from tobacco.
  • 2011: TFC expands access to Specialty and Chronic Care Clinics to residents of Polk County.
  • 2014: With receipt of a federal HRSA grant, TFC greatly expands care for Polk County with a dedicated case manager and medication delivery locally in partnership with St. Luke’s Hospital.
  • 2014: TFC also deepens partnership with Wingate School of Pharmacy who began providing Medication Therapy Management to our complex patients. 
  • 2015: In partnership with Hope RX, TFC begins offering life-saving medication Naloxone through our community pharmacy.
  • 2015: The first women’s wellness clinic is held in June.  
  • 2015: TFC launches Patient Health Advocacy program to address barriers to health and nurture patient engagement in their own health. 
  • 2016: TFC launches Community Garden with patient volunteers to address food insecurity, promote healthy foods, and encourage patient engagement.
  • 2016: Bridges to Health is named a national finalist for Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust Innovations in Rural Health Award. 

 TFC’s Journey into Population Health

Nationally, our understanding about what affects our health is evolving. We are talking about health more broadly, coming to understand that health starts–long before illness–in our homes, schools, and jobs. Scientists have found that the conditions in which we live and work have an enormous impact on our health, long before we ever see a doctor. In fact, they determine up to 80% of our health.

We are also coming to understand that becoming healthy takes three things. The first is ensuring that everyone can afford to see a doctor when they are sick. The second is making preventative care (like screening for cancer and heart disease) available to people who otherwise cannot get these critical screenings. The third is changing our thinking, from health as something we get at the doctor’s office to health as something that starts in our families, in our schools and workplaces, in our playgrounds and parks, and in the air we breathe and the water we drink. The more you see health in this way, the more opportunities you have to improve it. 

TFC is actualizing these three criteria for health. For over 15 years, thanks to your support, our 280 amazing volunteers, and our 170 tremendous healthcare partners, TFC has worked to address the first criterion for health–ensuring that everyone can see a doctor when they are sick. Over the past several years, we have expanded our emphasis on the second criterion–offering more and more wellness screenings. In 2015 we began to expand how we think about health–how to keep it, not just how to get it back.

At TFC, we know that many of our patients don’t have the same opportunities to be as healthy as others. In the summer of 2015, we launched our Patient Health Advocacy program. We are focusing on three dimensions (food, housing, and transportation) that are the three biggest barriers to our patients’ health. We also recognize that there are many other social factors that play a role in how healthy a person can be such as educational and job opportunities, public safety, and physical hazards.

Together, we care for our neighbors in need. Together, we create communities that are healthy places to live, work, learn and play, for our neighbors in need and for ourselves.