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OVHC cause for gratitude

Returning director thankful for providers, support of community, volunteers

MAKING A DIFFERENCE — Ann Quillen, right, who recently returned as the executive director of the Ohio Valley Health Center at 423 South St., Steubenville, consults with Christine Radivoj, one of several volunteer nurse practitioners at the free clinic that helps the uninsured and underinsured individuals and families in the Ohio Valley. For information on how to volunteer at the center, donate or inquire about eligibility for receiving services, call (740) 283-2856. -- Janice Kiaski

STEUBENVILLE — Even though it’s the month that brings Thanksgiving, there’s a lot to be thankful for year-round when it comes to the Ohio Valley Health Center located at 423 South St.

The fact that it even exists to provide high-quality health care to uninsured and underinsured individuals and families in the Ohio Valley, regardless of their ability to pay, is cause for gratitude, according to Ann Quillen, who recently returned for a second go-round as its executive director.

That it has dedicated staff, providers, volunteers and community support to meet health care needs that otherwise wouldn’t happen constitutes additional blessings.

Its patients are grateful, too, people who otherwise wouldn’t have help getting medicine they need to manage their hypertension or diabetes, for instance, but can’t afford, according to Quillen.

“We give people hope,” Quillen said. “At the end of the day, you know, patients come in here feeling very sad or hopeless or what am I going to do, they’ve been sick for a long time. We do their exam, we create a treatment plan. We give them the tools, we give them the medication, we’ve completed the lab work. And then they can leave here feeling hopeful that they’re going to be OK, and they know that they have somewhere to call if they get sick or they have other problems, and that they can come back and continue to be treated, then fine tune their treatment plan,” she said.

“That’s a powerful gift to give somebody hope, to be that encouragement,” Quillen said.

The center functions on donations and some grants. A key fundraiser this year — the gala — didn’t happen, though.

Like many nonprofits impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, it was unable to hold its annual event, this year to a Kentucky Derby theme. “Run for the Roses” was first scheduled for May, then September.

“We have had to cancel the gala two times, and since it is our biggest fundraiser and our main source of income for sustainability, it has been a very worrisome time in the life of the health center,” she noted. “Never have we been so low on financial reserves for the future. To compensate, we have recently accomplished a huge undertaking by sending out nearly 700 personally signed donor funding request letters,” she added.

“We are so grateful to our community who has graciously and generously given to the health center over the years. We have set an ambitious goal to raise $100,000 by the end of the year. At this time, through the generosity of so many donors we have secured almost $60,000 through our fundraising letter campaign, and we also are submitting several grants to assist with technology, quality assurance and quality improvement,” she added.

“We are so grateful for the support that people have sent in for the gala,” Quillen said. “People see the need for our services and have supported us. They’ve been faithful to our mission. We’re always grateful for that.”

The Jefferson County Fourth Street Health Center, which changed its name to the Ohio Valley Health Center in more recent years, opened its doors in 2006 at 701 N. Fourth St. and in its 14-year history has served close to 2,400 patients and logged nearly 21,000 patient visits. It has about 300 active patients presently.

“Diann Schmitt was the first executive director who worked diligently along with the board of directors to make the health center operational,” Quillen said. “I followed her and began serving in this position in 2008 through 2015.” Trudy Wilson came on board at the end of 2015, serving through 2020 until she accepted the director’s position at the Prime Time Senior Center in Steubenville.

“I have always said that this ‘job’ has been the best nursing job I have ever had,” Quillen said, “I am truly a nurse first where the health center is concerned and find the most satisfaction in getting a sick patient seen by one of our providers, securing medications for them and providing them with hope. Many times people arrive at the health center very sick, feeling desperate and maybe even a little hopeless about their medical condition. It is so wonderful to help them secure medications, counsel them about choosing a healthier lifestyle, encourage them and provide them with other necessary services,” she said.

Quillen retired from the post in 2015, when the expansion of Medicaid and Obamacare were coming into play.

“Along with that, there were many things, administratively speaking, that went beyond what I felt confident enough to manage or even want to manage,” she said. “The health center was doing well with numerous medical providers volunteering and, at that time, we even had two paid nurse practitioners through grant funding. There was a hard-working and dependable staff in place, so I felt it was a good time for me to leave knowing that the new director could come in and keep everything positively moving forward,” she said.

The departure afforded Quillen time to devote to family — two sons’ weddings and ultimately five grandchildren and “a new favorite ‘job’ in grandparenting”— and time to be involved in the Center for Hope capital campaign and building project at Wintersville United Methodist Church where her husband, Clint, serves as its pastor.

“I was happy about stepping down because of what I was stepping out into,” Quillen said.

Learning that Wilson was leaving to fulfill a different pursuit, however, left Quillen wondering what would come next for the health center.

“I was quite surprised when Tom Timmons, board treasurer, contacted me and asked if I would be interested in stepping back into the role as the interim executive director until the board had a chance to decide what the future of the health center would be,” she explained. “Because of my strong belief in the mission of the health center, I was happy to return and help the board navigate through the next chapter for the center,” she added, noting she is working between 25 to 30 hours a week, depending on the activity of the health center and patient care.

The work of the center continues, in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“During the beginning of COVID-19, we had several weeks where we did not see patients,” she said, “and like most health care offices, even when we could see patients again, patients were quite anxious about seeing a medical provider in person. Through all of this ‘COVID season’ we have actively and faithfully filled prescriptions every Wednesday so our patients would never have to be without medications, but our overall numbers for patient visits are low for the year,” she said. “We have been back to regular working hours since the end of July, and since our clinic has reopened for in-person patient care and our providers have returned on a regular basis, our activity in providing necessary services has greatly improved,” she said.

Quillen said the center is “very blessed” to have faithful volunteer medical providers. Dr. Charn Nandra, for example, has been with the health center since the doors opened in 2006 and has been the medical director since 2014. “We are so grateful for Dr. Anandi Murthy as she sees patients each Monday. Other doctors who serve our patients include Dr. John Hyland, Dr. Roger Isla, Dr. Santiago Ching, Dr. Pervaiz Rahman and Dr. Tom Brown, DDS, who sees patients in his dental office when they have an emergency dental need,” she said. Pam Lizon is a pharmacist who volunteers several days in the medication room assisting with medication refills and patient education. Rhonda Seelig, meanwhile, is a volunteer dietician who comes monthly to educate the center’s diabetic patients on improving their eating habits.

“We are excited to have two new nurse practitioners join our volunteer team — Dr. Denise Lucas and Mary Meyers.” The two began seeing patients in October. They join other nurse practitioners Diann Schmitt, Christine Radivoj and Yvonne Tolson-Meyers.

“All of these medical providers have different schedules in the health center,” Quillen explained. “Some see patients one day a week and others come once a month for a whole day. Diann Schmitt is a professor at Franciscan University of Steubenville and brings nurse practitioner students to the health center for their clinical experience.”

Quillen also adds to her thankful-for list an “excellent board of directors,” individuals dedicated to the center’s mission and committed to helping with fundraising and outreach. Anthony Mougianis serves as chair with Kyle Brown as vice chair, Tom Timmons as treasurer and Clint Powell as secretary.

Other board members include Mark Judy, Reni Petrides, Frank Rogers, Bob Gribben, Chris Orris and Kim Mark.

“We are fortunate and very blessed by the dedication of our board,” she said.

Although the center see adults of all ages and at all stages of life come through its doors for assistance, the typical patient is a woman in her mid-50s who may work a part- or full-time job or someone in her household works, according to Quillen.

“However, she is not offered health insurance at her place of employment, or she cannot afford to purchase insurance, or her income level is too high to qualify for Medicaid,” she added, noting the center’s No. 1 diagnosis in its patients is hypertension and diabetes.

Despite being in existence for many years now, the center is an unknown to many, and some people might think they don’t qualify for help. The best rule of thumb is to simply ask, according to Quillen.

“Pick up the phone and call or come in,” Quillen said, noting the general hours are from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Some evenings hours are available also. The phone number is (740) 283-2856.

Part of that might be people don’t seek what they need until they need it.

“You don’t pay attention to a free clinic until you don’t have insurance, and then all of a sudden it’s like where am I going to go for help,” Quillen said.

The center is registered with 2-1-1, the informational hotline number, and makes use of social media.

“Our board of directors believes that the health center is one of the best kept secrets in our community,” Quillen observed. “We are currently conducting an outreach campaign to let our uninsured population know that our doors are open, we are a free clinic and that we are accepting new patients. We also want to increase awareness that we can help in several ways to significantly improve their lives and health,” she added.

Nandra has set a goal for the health center to see 1,000 new patients during the next year, Quillen noted.

“We have already begun that campaign by working with the Ohio Department of Health, Charitable Healthcare Network and Urban Mission. Recently, 2,000 face masks were donated to the health center, and we packaged them into two masks per bag with an information card of the services that are offered at the health center. These packages were then passed out at the food distribution day at the Urban Mission. The Rev. Ashley Steele, executive director of the mission, related that 1,000 new families now qualify for food assistance and, therefore, we know that some of those folks no longer have medical insurance and could use our assistance in medical care,” Quillen said.

The center worked with Walgreens and Americares to set up a free flu shot clinic last month for uninsured residents and as a member agency of the United Way of Jefferson County, the health center wants to collaborate with other agencies to wrap services around patients that the community has to offer.

“We are definitely making some great strides to reach out to our community,” Quillen said. “We have many collaborations with other nonprofits to maximize our outreach to discover the residents who really need the significant health care we are able to provide.”

“It is truly an honor and privilege to be serving as board chair for the Ohio Valley Health Center,” Mougianis noted. “I have been blessed by past leadership that helped pave the great tradition that the health center is.”

He described 2020 as a challenging year in general but even more so for the center in helping the underinsured and uninsured. “This number just continues to grow and evidenced in the number of patients we are serving,” he said.

“The health center has a rich history from its humble beginnings on North Fourth Street to a time spent at Trinity Medical Center East and now currently in our own state-of-the-art medical building on South Street in downtown,” he said. “We are blessed to be led by tremendous leadership in a committed working board of directors and also in Ann Quillen, our executive director who comes back to the health center after being gone for a few years, along with a extraordinary staff of administrative as well as health care practitioners and doctors which many come to us as volunteers,” he said.

The center’s main source of income was heavily reliant on the annual gala, according to Mougianis.

“This year, as with many public functions due to the pandemic and the risk of gathering in large groups, the gala had to be totally canceled. We are so incredibly thankful for the outpouring of love and support that we have received with our COVID relief fundraiser in lieu of the gala where many came forth and donated to the center. It truly shows how much the center is appreciated and loved by so many here in our community helping the many who normally would go completely without care. The future is very bright at the Ohio Valley Health Center, and the tradition continues to serve the less fortunate in need,” Mougianis added.

Quillen noted that, along with the increased need for services, there’s a renewed sense of mission, purpose and desire to make a positive difference for the medically uninsured and underserved in the community.

“All financial gifts directly help those in need of the Ohio Valley Health Center and are greatly appreciated,” Quillen said.

“COVID-19 has devastated so many families and we can only expect that there will be an increase in the need for high-quality medical care for those folks who find themselves in difficult and trying situations during these very challenging times,” Quillen said.

To give online, visit www.ovhealthcenter.org or mail checks to OVHC, 423 South St., Steubenville, OH 43952.

(Kiaski can be contacted at jkiaski@heraldstaronline.com.)

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