PARRISH - Dr. David Jones, the executive director of Capstone Rural Health Center since 2011, has become a familiar, friendly face in the area, promoting the center at its three locations and cheerfully looking at his role as a missionary to serve the community.
Even in his youth, he wanted to serve others in missionary service. "I wanted to become a doctor and move to Africa, and that would be my life," said Jones, who now attends Desperation Church.
His mission field would turn out differently. With over 25 years of healthcare experience, Jones, 45 has had hands-on experience as a registered nurse, nurse practitioner, and health care executive. The "Dr." is a Doctorate of Nursing Practice from the University of Alabama, as he points out he is not a doctor. (Two full-time physicians and four full-time nurse practitioners are on staff with the clinic.)
Even now he enjoys serving others. "If I worked 40 hours a week just to make money, it would be the most miserable thing in the world. I like helping people. I'm addicted to it." Since becoming an administrator, he missed having more of a hands-on experience with patients, although he tries to be with patients as he can.
Foster David Jones, Jr., the son of Butch and Carolyn Jones, was born in the Union Chapel area. When he was 5, the family moved to Birmingham for nine years, and then moved to Aldridge, where his father's family was from.
"In 1991, I graduated from (T.W.) Martin," a K-12 school near the Gorgas steam plant, he said, eventually going through the two-year nursing program at Walker College.
"Then I couldn't get a job so I moved to Prattville," he said, spending 13 years there, getting a bachelors and later a master's degree in nursing from Troy University. He was hired by Health Services, Inc., a community health center's like Capstone, with 10 facilities, letting him learn the ins and outs of such as center in Clanton, Montgomery, Autaugaville and Eclectic - although he had to warm up to the experience.
"I hated it. I was scared to death. All these people didn't have insurance. They couldn't go where they needed to go," he said. "Those five years I was there, I really got into a comfort zone. I wanted to be a missionary ... so I ended up learning to be a missionary in our community and serving the poor and underprivileged."
In 2006, Capstone was at its old building in downtown Parrish, at 1220 Main Dr., after the clinic was started by the University of Alabama in 2001 with a technology grant, Jones said, with grants to follow.
He became a staff nurse practitioner at Capstone in 2006, moving back to Union Chapel. The clinic's executive director and founder, Dr. Jeri Dunkin from the University (of Alabama) School of Nursing, had a vision of turning the facility into more of a community health center. Capstone became a Federally Qualified Health Center under Section 330 of the Congressional Public Health Service Act in 2007. It is also a 501(c)(3) non-profit.
Unfortunately, Dunkin had a motorcycle wreck. As a result of the injuries, Jones has been in charge since 2011.
Moving into the executive role was one of his biggest challenges, he said, as well as making the move around 2011 for Capstone to assume more of the risks, moving away from the University of Alabama being the caretaker.
"We took over our own payroll. We grew out of that relationship," he said. "The bureau that we are funded under doesn't like us to be controlled by another entity." As a result, the center's board of directors is really considered to be ultimately in charge.
"We are a part of a safety net framework in our country," he said. "Across the nation there are probably 1,100 outfits like this, with Capstone being a small one. Our target population are those who make 200 percent or less of federal poverty." People without much money or insurance come to Capstone and can pay $20 for a visit, plus a little extra for shots and lab work. "If we buy it, it is a lot cheaper" for the supplies, he said.
He and others noted people with insurance are still welcomed at the clinic and their insurance is still accepted, a fact many people still don't realize.
Capstone serves all of Walker County, Jones said. "I don't care if you are a millionaire or if you make $10,000 a year. We want to give you the best service we can," he said, saying he would put the staff of 45 (25 or so of which are in Parrish) would go "toe-to-toe" with any other medical facility, pointing to how the patients are tracked and how much they improve.
It also serves some into Winston County as Nauvoo is on the county line, in downtown Nauvoo. ("They had very desperate needs up there. They had no provider, and they are isolated geographically from Jasper. It's a long drive," Jones said.) Moreover, some drive from Jefferson County and as far away as Clanton if they know and like the providers.
The Parrish facility (next to the Parrish Post Office) and Jasper facility (next to the old Community Hospital on Seventh Avenue) offers primary and behavioral care, plus transportation and translation services for patients. (The transportation is for those who have no transportation and depend on others for travel.) Obamacare funding for new access points was used to start the Nauvoo facility, with a full staff and van.
Supplemental funding was found for a pharmacist, Lauren Byrd, in Nauvoo, to serve Capstone's patients from all its facilities. "We are able to purchase medicine on a government discount," he said. "I think Lauren is doing up to 200 prescriptions a day."
About 5,100 patients, who are not counted more than once, come to Capstone, he said, although those people may make several visits a year, Jones said, amounting to a total of about 16,000 visits annually. As Parrish has three providers while the rest have one or two, the capacity is greater in Parrish, possibly as many half the patients coming to the clinic there.
"Nauvoo is busy, and Jasper is too," Jones said. "We hope to open a facility at the West Jasper school, because we know the poverty is there. The poverty and the uninsured is the big deal for us right now. You can get insurance on the marketplace but it seems you can't afford to use it. So we try to work with those folks like they didn't have insurance."
He noted one sees more people walking in the West Jasper area, saying one didn't see that 20 years ago. "It's not normal for people walking that much," he said.
However, he said he was excited about targeting the area and how the community can come together to improve lives. He said the Jasper Area Family Services Center can contribute to helping that area for parenthood, reading and other high-quality programs.
Jones said the medical service is thorough, with about 50 performance measures that are looked at in chronic condition management, with systems to track patients and providers and a computer portal for patients to see lab work. "If your blood pressure is not right at the end of the calendar year, it stresses us out," he said. "We try to push you into a full slate of primary care," including cancer screenings.
Patients with major needs are referred to any available specialist, with three people dedicated to finding referral sources. "There are so many sad things we see that could have been prevented on the front end if the patient had paid attention to their health and had access to primary care," Jones said.
Jones said the clinic sees the outcome of a number of social markers of this area, ranging from the limits of what one can eat to generational drug use and smoking in a home. Sometimes essentials such as medical and dental checkups, vaccinations, and eye care are ignored.
Even if local residents are not in a bad situation, the area have a high index of accidents, cancer, cardio vascular diseases and lung diseases such as COPD, he said.
"We love to target prevention," noting the clinic has started a class to quit smoking and a recent grant for the substance abuse services.
Staff people, besides working on medical needs, also help with getting food, clothing and shelter to people in need, working with Department of Human Resources, the prisons, law enforcement and the Walker County Homeless Coalition, for example.
He finds the community has supported the clinic "100 percent," offering donations and items to support its mission. The clinic continues to need donations of financial support and advocacy for the clinics.
Jones and his wife, Lindsey, who is the clinical director at Capstone, were married in 2014. Not only are they bringing up three children - Molly, 9, Raleigh, 11, and Mary, 15 - he also has two horses, two dogs, five cats, a squirrel and two goats.
Asked what it was like to work with his wife at work, he laughed. "Just say he laughed when you asked. She knows it's hard," he joked, finally admitting she actually works in Jasper except to come down for meetings in Parrish on Thursdays.
DAILY MOUNTAIN EAGLE - ED HOWELL