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STEPPING UP: Carol Harris is leading a fundraising push for the nonprofit led by Kenn Tilus.
STEPPING UP: Carol Harris is leading a fundraising push for the nonprofit led by Kenn Tilus.

Focus Feature: Operating on Faith

Posted online
Seasonal workers power Branson. From busing tables, to cleaning hotel rooms and working behind the scenes as stagehands, roughly 40,000 hourly workers descend on the live entertainment capital of the world each year to ensure the city’s tourism industry moves like a well-oiled machine. It’s a big jump for the city’s year-round population of just over 11,000.

While they fill a vital role for the city, their personal needs are going unmet. The extended-stay hotel crisis has been well documented across the Branson area, but other missing essentials are just starting to see the light. Many seasonal workers suffer from a lack of health care, mostly because they have no insurance or inadequate access to traditional services.

That’s where Faith Community Health Center Inc. comes in. FCH is a faith-based, health care nonprofit that delivers care to the uninsured and underinsured residents of Stone and Taney counties.

“We are a safety net for these workers,” says Kenn Tilus, clinic executive director. “These are people who are working, trying to make their way and could be one cold away from losing it all.”

FCH receives no money from federal government services such as Medicare and Medicaid. Instead it uses a sliding fee scale based on patient income for medical and vision exams – ranging between $25 and $60. On a budget of $600,000 last year, the clinic served more than 4,000 people.

With so many part-time and seasonal workers, many businesses in Branson fall under the Affordable Care Act’s minimum guideline to provide health insurance for employees, but because Missouri declined to implement Medicaid expansion, Tilus says many fall into the gap between the two programs.

Those making 18 percent of the federal poverty level qualify for Medicaid – roughly $4,000 a year or less for a family of three. Subsidies only are available in the federal health care exchange for people whose household incomes are at least 100 percent of poverty – $20,090 for a family of three.  

“For a family of three, that’s about $305 a month,” Tilus says, noting the Missouri rate is the second lowest in the nation. “That’s a big group of people too rich to be considered poor, but too poor to get proper insurance.”

What they do
FCH offers medical, dispensary, vision, wellness and mental health care – and until recently, dental care – with a staff of just eight people.

Tilus says the dispensary is the clinic’s hidden gem. Most patients qualify to receive their prescriptions for free either through pharmaceutical company patient assistance programs or as part of the Dispensary of Hope system. In 2016, FCH issued $3 million in retail value worth of meds. That’s a 50 percent increase over 2015.

“Some of these are people who might have hundreds of dollars in monthly medication needs they could never afford,” Tilus says.

According to its website, the Dispensary of Hope is a charitable medication distributor. Through stewardship of the pharmaceutical supply chain, the Dispensary of Hope collects and distributes millions of dollars of pharmaceuticals annually to charitable clinics and pharmacies to dispense to low-income, uninsured patients.

In all, FCH issued 14,264 prescriptions last year.

Tilus says the clinic wasn’t always so popular. It started as a pipedream in 2008 and has grown steadily since. A group of concerned residents came across the Church Health Center model in Memphis, Tennessee, and took a trip.

“They do tours for other communities and I’ve heard Branson was the largest contingent ever sent,” he says.

According to its website, Church Health Center was founded in 1987 and has grown to become the largest faith-based health care organization of its type in the country with more than 58,000 patients of record without relying on government funding.

In Branson, FCH treated 4,065 people last year, down from 4,390 in 2015. Tilus says had the clinic not lost its dentist in the final few months of the year, FCH was on track to see 4,402 patients in 2016.

“We were seeing about 130 dental patients a month,” he says. “But our dentist left late last year, so those numbers were down for the last few months of the year.”

The clinic currently is working toward development of a voucher plan for the future.

How they pay for it
Like its Memphis model, FCH operates on a mission of faith.

“We seek to share God’s love through whole-person care,” Tilus says, noting the clinic serves anyone with no religious restrictions. “It’s a soft approach. We let them know what’s available, but we don’t push.

“Faith is in our name for a clear reason. We operate on faith every day.”

Faith, however, doesn’t always pay the bills. Ideally, Tilus would like the budget to be funded in thirds – with one third coming from patient-paid fees, one third coming through grants and the final via donations.

Last year, donations came in at just $90,000, significantly short of the $200,000 goal. So, in October, the clinic hired Carol Harris as its new community relations director. Tasked with increasing donations, Harris hit the ground running. With a focus on bringing awareness and connecting with area businesses, she already has set up donor database software and started a newsletter.

“Right now, I’m focusing on businesses,” she said, noting she also wants employers to know what services are available for their employees. “We want more awareness in the business community of the need.”

Last year, FCH ran a $5,000 for 5,000 patients campaign asking for donations from area banks. Several stepped up to the plate. Branson’s First Community Bank of the Ozarks donated $425 from a casual Friday event.

“This is truly an employee donation; they pay $3 each Friday to wear jeans,” says President Charlie Schumacher. “There are a lot of nonprofits in Branson, but we were very impressed with this organization.”

The Bank of Missouri also got on board with the event, donating $2,500. Community Bank President David Cook already has built a donation into this year’s budget.

“A lot of people don’t know, but this organization touches so many lives in our community,” he says. “The need is so strong.”

A $40 donation provides one patient visit, which typically includes a prescription. Those average around $1,300 per person, but go as high as $80,000 for hepatitis C treatment, Tilus said.

“That is a return on investment of about 30 times for each donation,” he says.

Kicking off as early as March and running through November, FCH is gearing up for its busy season. People who live here know the situation, but they might not know how to help,” Harris says. “Now, they will.”

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