About Cheryl M. Christian
Length of time in Gainesville: 34 years
Education: Registered nurse, bachelor’s degree
Occupation: Executive Director, Good News Clinics
Most interesting job: Good News Clinics because the skills I learned in each former position help me each day at Good News
Family information: Husband, Bob; daughter, Kim; son, Erin
Cheryl Christian leads one of the best “good news” stories in Hall County. As executive director of Good News Clinics, Christian oversees the largest free medical clinic in Georgia, serving more than 1,000 patients a month. A cadre of physicians volunteers at the clinic, which has been held up by Gov. Nathan Deal and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle as a model for the state and nation to follow.
Today, The Times asks Christian five questions about the role the clinic plays in our community and her goals for the future.
1. What have you learned about health care in your role at Good News Clinics that you think people need to be more aware of?
Since coming to Good News Clinics, I have a better understanding of the critical need for health care to uninsured residents of Hall County. There are an estimated 43,000 individuals in Hall County who are uninsured.
Hall County recognizes that a healthy community must provide access to health care for all its residents; our community supports Good News Clinics with volunteer and financial donations.
Because of our caring community, Good News Clinics is the largest free medical clinic and the largest free dental clinic in Georgia, providing primary care and specialty referrals for our medical patients, dental care, physical therapy, mental health counseling, medications and patient education.
Physicians and dentists in Hall County are willing to share their expertise and their time to serve the uninsured. Forty-two physicians, six nurse practitioners and physician assistants volunteer at Good News Clinics. In addition, over 200 specialists see patients in their offices with a referral from Good News Clinics’ Health Access program.
2. How do you think the nation’s new health care system will affect Good News Clinics?
Currently we average 135 new patients each month and serve over 1,000 individuals monthly in our medical and dental clinics combined.
The Affordable Care Act does not address dental care, mental health counseling, patient education or ophthalmologic care; these services are available at Good News Clinics.
If ACA is fully funded, there will still be an estimated 13,500 residents of Hall County without access to health care. As the clinics focus on providing services to our patients, our staff and board of directors stay informed of ACA implementation plans while working with Northeast Georgia Medical Center, physician practices and Hall County Department of Public Health to identify health care needs and gaps of services within our community.
Our board of directors uses this information to develop long-range plans for the medical and dental clinics to better serve our patients.
3. What has been the biggest surprise to you about the success of Good News Clinics?
At no time since the economic downturn has Good News Clinics had a waiting list or stopped taking new patient applications.
As the number of uninsured has grown in Hall County, more physicians, dentists, medically trained staff and community volunteers have stepped forward to help us meet the growing need. United Way, churches, civic organizations and individuals have increased their financial support for the clinic to enable us to purchase medical and dental supplies to serve our patients. Northeast Georgia Medical Center is a strong partner with Good News Clinics, providing financial support as well as including us in discussions regarding health care needs in our community.
4. What is the one thing you wish Good News Clinics could provide more of?
One of the greatest needs in our community is patient education. Good News Clinics would like to expand our current classes: smoking cessation, nutrition, diabetes management and oral health care.
Recently, Vision 2030’s Healthcare Consortium studied health data in our community with alarming findings. Statistics show that 79.5 percent of uninsured residents of Hall County are overweight, 50.8 percent are diabetic and 45 percent have hypertension.
With the help of foundation funding, Good News Clinics has shown that 78 percent of our patients who attend patient education classes showed an improvement in their health (weight loss, lower blood pressure or lower blood sugar level).
In the next few months, Good News Clinics will complete an addition to our building to include a much larger patient education classroom to accommodate the number of patients attending classes and enable the clinic to expand the number of classes we offer.
5. What opportunities are available for people who would like to volunteer at the clinics or assist in other ways?
Good News Clinics could not exist without our volunteers. Volunteer roles include assisting with new patient applications, helping scan medical charts into an electronic medical record, answering telephone calls, developing public relations materials including the newsletter and other administrative tasks.
The need for individuals with medical and dental training is ongoing. Good News Clinics would like to expand the number of dental hygienist volunteers.
If you have a few hours each month that you are willing to help GNC serve our patients, please call us at 770-503-1369. We invite you to come tour the clinic and learn more about our volunteer opportunities.