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Clean Bill of Health finds acceptance in community

PELAHATCHIE — As a nurse practitioner-owned clinic, A Clean Bill of Health has often had to fight for acceptance. Some insurance companies were slow to give credentials to the clinic’s proprietor, Donna Foster, CFNP. And some of Foster’s health care peers were downright nasty, viewing the clinic as unwanted competition.

Fortunately, acceptance from those groups has come. Foster’s dogged determination eventually got her insured. And her relationship with her preceptor (nurse practitioners are required to refer patients who need more in-depth care to physicians called preceptors) is excellent.

Perhaps more important is the acceptance of the public. On July 1, 2000, when A Clean Bill of Health opened its doors for the first time in this small Rankin County community, which has a population of only approximately 1,500, it saw two patients. Today, the staff daily sees an average of 20-30 patients during the summer and as many as 50 in the winter. The clinic now has approximately 3,600 patients on file, some of whom drive a remarkably long way — from as far as Brookhaven and McComb — for care.

“It’s just a matter of persistence, and I have come to realize that this is not a popularity contest,” Foster said. “Medical clinics do not exist to provide me or any other health care provider with the opportunity to make a living, rather they are intended to improve the health care of the community. Doing what I do is so much more than a job. It is truly a calling.”

While Foster admitted that there were times during the clinic’s earliest days when she went home and wept, A Clean Bill of Health has been a dream come true, not a nightmare. Foster formative years were spent in Alabama where, at the age of three when trying to learn to read, she became fascinated by a dermatology book. Her garage was quickly transformed into a clinic, and her stuffed animals, patients.

Relocating to Memphis, Foster went on to the University of Memphis, where she pursued a degree in education. She soon discovered that teaching was not what she wanted to do. And in the meantime, a daughter was born with a heart condition that kept Foster frequently in hospitals. It jogged her childhood memories.

Foster and her husband, Jim, relocated once again, this time to the Jackson area, and Foster earned her bachelor’s degree in nursing from the University of Mississippi Medical Center in 1989. After working in the field, she decided that she would go back to school once again, this time to be a nurse practitioner. Foster would earn that degree in 1997 from the Mississippi University for Women.

Here, the road turned sharply on Foster. Cuts in rural health care funding spelled trouble for nurse practitioners. On the day Foster graduated from the “W”, she and all other nurse practitioners were let go from the Madison County hospital that employed her. She went on to Lexington, where she worked to establish a pediatric clinic, and did contract nursing work through an agency.

But the entrepreneurship bug bit her, and she decided the time was right to open her own clinic. A Clean Bill of Health was formed with funding coming from Jim’s retirement money. (Jim is a RN and he is heavily involved in the business side of the clinic, as well.) The patient load has increased ever since.

Foster attributes the clinic’s success to individualized care in a homey, familiar atmosphere, a style critical to success in a rural setting. Patients are known by their first name, and Foster often finds herself in the role of family counselor, sociologist, dietician — friend. And yes, she has accepted produce in lieu of cash from her patients.

That familiar atmosphere extends to the facility itself, as well. Located on 2nd Street (U.S. 80), A Clean Bill of Health occupies a quaint, yellow frame house that turned 100-plus years old this summer. The former home took six months of work to rehabilitate, with a lot of the work performed by Foster herself. “My hands have touched every square inch of this place,” Foster said. “I didn’t have a fingernail left when I finished.”

The clinic, which encompasses approximately 2,600 square feet, has two examination rooms, one dedicated for children, a waiting room decorated in the style fitting a 100-year-old den, a lab and a receptionist-records area. The walls are filled with photographs of her patients and their families, as well as pictures of Foster’s family and motivational posters.

While A Clean Bill of Health offers something of a “throw-back” in health care, the clinic also embraces the modern. Foster utilizes a laptop and paperless patient file system, which she said is critical as the clinic keeps pace with the growing number of patients. And A Clean Bill of Health also offers The Breathing Center, a state-of-the-art respiratory therapy practice run by Rusty Alliston, RRT.

“Explaining how I really feel about this profession is akin to explaining how I feel about my two beautiful granddaughters. It is something that cannot be seen or heard — it must be felt with the heart,” Foster said.

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at northway@msbusiness.com.

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