Eastern Wake News

Partnership boosts services at medical clinic

CornerStone Family Services Group Director Luis Lozada, right, works on schedules with Shepherd’s Care Medical Clinic Director Leona Doner, left, and administrative staff member Moraima Cid at the clinic in Zebulon, N.C. Tuesday, July 19, 2016.
CornerStone Family Services Group Director Luis Lozada, right, works on schedules with Shepherd’s Care Medical Clinic Director Leona Doner, left, and administrative staff member Moraima Cid at the clinic in Zebulon, N.C. Tuesday, July 19, 2016. amoody@newsobserver.com

Luis Lozada got more than he expected out of taking his mother-in-law to an appointment at Shepherd’s Care Medical Clinic in March.

A conversation that day with Shepherd’s Care Executive Director Leona Doner resulted in a partnership that gave CornerStone Family Services, a mental health group led by Lozada, a home at the clinic on Pony Road. It also proved valuable for Shepherd’s Care – boosting services and enabling the clinic to serve Medicaid patients for the first time.

Lozada said the way things worked out is nothing short of a “God thing.”

“We spoke about at least doing something – referrals even, at least – and maybe doing a collaboration, and then from there things just kind of sparked off and we’ve been working together ever since,” he said.

Doner has applied several times for the ability to accept Medicaid at the free and charitable clinic, which formerly served only the uninsured, but to no avail.

How it works

CornerStone has been approved to administer the government insurance program since last summer.

“It’s definitely a grueling process to get approved to be able to accept Medicaid,” Lozada said. “It took us almost an exact year. Before we even had an office or entity or patient, we had to be able to establish ourselves as an organization for them to be able to approve it.”

Shepherd’s Care is able to piggyback off CornerStone’s Medicaid status only by absorbing the mental health service. That means CornerStone is technically a part of Shepherd’s Care, but retains its name because the Medicaid approval lies with CornerStone.

Lozada learned July 15 that the existing paid medical staff at Shepherd’s Care was approved to see Medicaid patients, billing through CornerStone. That was the final straw needed for the clinic to be able to offer both medical and mental health services to both Medicaid and uninsured patients.

Shepherd’s Care volunteer staff now serves all the uninsured patients and its paid staff serves the Medicaid patients for medical visits, while the new staff from CornerStone takes the mental health visits for those on Medicaid. The clinic does not accept any other form of insurance.

“It keeps it level, and we want to make sure that the folks that are getting the services are being seen by folks who want to service them and not because they’re receiving a paycheck,” Lozada said.

Meeting needs

The clinic has dabbled in offering mental health services before, but never made it a fixture until now.

A renewed, three-year N.C. Office of Rural Health grant for $150,000 annually helped the clinic expand in 2015 into the other other half of the building it occupies, as it planned to add behavior health, gynecological and medical nutritional counseling services.

“When we got our second grant, we stipulated that we would be seeing behavior health patients, so this fulfills our obligation to our grant,” Doner said.

It’s been about three months since CornerStone joined Shepherd’s Care, making it one of the few mental healthcare providers in the eastern Wake region.

CornerStone is an offshoot of a larger entity, CornerStone Ministries Group, which Lozada started out of his home about the same time Doner founded Shepherd’s Care in 2010.

CornerStone Ministries opened its first office in Miami before closing that space to focus on a second location it had opened in North Carolina.

Lozada brought two members of the administrative staff from his Raleigh office with him to Zebulon.

CornerStone Family Services formerly focused on children. Now, as part of Shepherd’s Care, it adds services for adults and addresses several areas it wasn’t able to before, including drug and alcohol abuse, counseling and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Innovative structure

The alliance brings the clinic one step closer to its goal of being a single-site buffet for low- or no-cost health services.

“Luis and I both believe in the circle of care, and that it’s not just medical,” Doner said. “It’s mental, it’s home, it’s nutrition. So that’s what we’re trying to do, is put more links in that circle.”

Lozada said the arrangement at Shepherd’s Care is well ahead of the times.

“We’ve kind of stepped foot into something that the industry has been trying to do for quite some time – probably ahead of the game like 10 years – which is putting a mental health facility and a medical facility under one roof,” he said.

He said the structure has led the electronic health records company that works with CornerStone to design forms that can be used for both medical and mental health, whereas they have formerly been built for one or the other.

“We’ve tapped the iceberg in something that’s probably going to be the norm in a couple years,” Lozada said.