More patients, stagnant funding strain TOMAGWA HealthCare Ministries

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TOMAGWA HealthCare Ministries’ patient base jumped 28% from 2016-17 after Hurricane Harvey hit the Greater Houston area in August 2017, interim CEO Timika Simmons said. But while the influx of patients continues, a financial gap remains, she said.

The Tomball-based nonprofit organization, established in 1989, offers low-cost health care services to uninsured, low-income residents in northwest Harris, Montgomery and Waller counties at its main Tomball clinic as well as locations in Magnolia and Waller. TOMAGWA saw 22,500 patient visits in both 2017 and 2018, Grant Manager Ginni Whitten said in an email.

“We’re still seeing those new patients that we received because of Harvey,” Simmons said. “With the growing need in our community, … we’re getting new patients every week that are coming to us for screenings.”

TOMAGWA scaled back operations at its Magnolia clinic in March, citing financial challenges. The clinic, located in the Magnolia Landmark Building at 18230 FM 1488, opened in spring 2017 and provided more than 3,300 patient visits in 2018, TOMAGWA officials said in a March 19 news release.

“Initially we had to close it because of financial hardship, and in that you start looking at the business model even more closely,” she said. “We realized there was not only the opportunity to reset the finances, if you will, but also look at how we operated and the services we provide.”

Simmons said the Magnolia clinic is open one day each week by appointment only for existing patients to keep up with the most serious needs. She said she hopes to implement a new business model at the Magnolia location in the third quarter of 2019, which will reduce costs, reorganize operations and better offer services to the Magnolia community.

“We had to scale back because we had to restructure our model to figure out how to meet those needs there [in Magnolia],” Simmons said. “There may be an opportunity to diversify what we’re doing in Magnolia, but we definitely have to figure out in that small of a practice how to meet more needs so that you don’t have so many patients having to come to Tomball or [a single patient]having to make multiple visits. If we could do more at that practice, you could open the door for more individuals to come in.”

Closing the gap

TOMAGWA’s reach spans 670,000 square miles and includes about 100,000 uninsured residents, Simmons said. In addition to family practice services, TOMAGWA provides laboratory, pharmacy and dental services.

To serve the growing number of patients, the Tomball clinic added Saturday hours in late 2018 as well as an in-house lab in January, which minimizes the number of visits each patient must make, Simmons said.

However, she said TOMAGWA has not seen donor funding rise despite the general population growing.

“The need [for health care services]is increasing, and it’s actually putting stress on a lot of organizations that provide those safety-net services to our community,” said Lynn LeBouef, CEO of the Tomball Regional Health Foundation. “We have seen our requests for funding go up substantially.”

The TRHF provides about $150,000 and $600,000 annually to TOMAGWA’s medical and dental programs, respectively, as well as $220,000 in emergency funding, LeBouef said. The TRHF supplied TOMAGWA with emergency funding in April to revitalize the clinic, according to an April 30 release.

“They’re one of our largest recipients of grants,” he said. “And it’s still not keeping up with the pace of TOMAGWA and the growth in the area. So they’re a little stressed right now.”

TOMAGWA manages a $4.5 million budget annually, Simmons said. The organization must bring in more than $2 million while volunteer hours and partnerships account for the remaining portion of the budget.

Volunteers contributed 35,500 hours to TOMAGWA last year, totaling more than $500,000 in budgetary relief, Simmons said. She said she hopes to bring in another 3,000 volunteers by mid-2020 to continue providing financial relief.

“There’s that constant anxiety to fill up that level of cash, and if you lose a volunteer or a group of volunteers then all of a sudden that price tag goes up,” Simmons said. “The more volunteers we get help[s]offset the budget until we can close those funding gaps by trying to engage donors in our area.”

The average patient visit costs TOMAGWA about $135, but patients contribute only about $35, creating a funding gap, Simmons said.

“When you think of 22,500 [patients]—we’re already on track for seeing more patients than that this year—that’s a lot of $100 bills that we have to make up for,” she said.

View our other Health Care Directory coverage.

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Anna Lotz
Anna joined Community Impact Newspaper as a reporter in May 2016 after graduating with a degree in journalism from Cedarville University in Cedarville, Ohio. In July 2017, she transitioned to editor. Anna covers education, local government, transportation, business, real estate development and nonprofits in the Tomball and Magnolia communities. Prior to CI, Anna served as editor-in-chief of Cedars, interned with the National Journalism Center in Washington, D.C., and spent time writing for the Springfield News-Sun and Xenia Daily Gazette.
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