Wake Teen Medical Services closes

Todd Cohen

Wake Teen Medical Services
Wake Teen Medical Services

RALEIGH, N.C. — Wake Teen Medical Services, a Raleigh nonprofit formed in 1977 that served thousands of patients a year, many of them uninsured, has shut down.

“We could no longer support our mission,” says Michelle Ruskay, chairperson of Wake Teen’s board of directors and manager of operations for U.S. partner organizations at Cisco.

The agency, which saw over 2,300 unduplicated patients in 2010, has been working with other local agencies on a transition plan since it closed its doors on May 18, and referring patient callers and transferring patient records to other agencies, Ruskay says.

Operating with an annual budget of $1.4 million, Wake Teen had a projected budget shortfall of $4,000 to $145,000 in the current fiscal year, she says.

The agency had seen a 61 percent increase in uninsured patients in the fiscal year that ends June 30, compared to the previous year, with patient revenue covering only a third of the agency’s total expenses, she says.

It also found it was able to see fewer patients each day because, in trying to fulfill its mission, patient visits needed to accommodate not only physical care but also health-education counseling and mental-health care, Ruskay says.

Other factors in the decision to close the agency include a decline in revenue from individual fundraising and grants, and a shift in the focus of foundation grants to program support from operating support.

“It was a series of unfortunate events,” Ruskay says. “My hope is that our community will fill the gap.”

Wake Teen, which was located at 505 Oberlin Rd., provided primary health care to roughly 2,300 adolescents ages 10 to 23 in 2010, and handled a total of 5,271 medical visits and 616 mental-health visits, up from 4,132 and 432, respectively, in 2008, according to its 2010 annual report.

The agency employed 19 people, 10 working full-time and nine part-time.

Ruskay says Joyce Wood resigned earlier this year as executive director.

Susan Easter, who had been serving most recently as interim executive director, has been working with volunteers, answering phones, and referring patients and transferring their records to other agencies.

Under a competitive process for “community partnership funding,” Wake Teen received $15,000 from Wake County in the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2010, and $23,000 in the fiscal year that ends June 30, 2011, says Will Glenn, public affairs manager for Wake County.

That competitive funding process has been delayed for the fiscal year that begins July 1, he says, and no county funds had been scheduled to go to Wake Teen.

Wake Teen served young patients with a range of primary-care medical services, mental-health services and health education, often in partnership with other agencies, including the YWCA of the Greater Triangle, Haven House and SAFEchild.

Haven House, which serves at-risk youth and their families, distributed an email message on May 17 reporting that the Wake County Board of Commissioners the previous night had received a fiscal 2011-12 county budget that calls for complete elimination of county match dollars for juvenile programs.

The email message says the move would “significantly impact Haven House Services programs as well as other nonprofits in the county.”

“I feel like the economy caught up to us,” Ruskay says. “The health-care concerns and issues in our government today are very real and definitely hitting home.”

Michael Durfee, a retired pediatrician who founded Wake Teen and initially served as its medical director, says the agency provided place for teenagers “to come in without parents, just a drop-in.”

The agency “was a safe place to be able to talk to somebody who listened,” he says. “And then it just fell apart.”

The closing of Wake Teen is “terrible,” Durfee says. “I don’t know where teenagers are going to go.”

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