In 1989, Martha Carter was a midwife who took over a birthing center with a handful of employees.
Thirty years later, as Carter retires, FamilyCare is a federally qualified health center with 250 employees at 14 locations in four West Virginia counties.
“I really just grew with the business,” said Carter, the agency’s departing CEO. “I didn’t know how to do a budget in the beginning. I didn’t know much about anything except midwifery.
“I knew that I wanted to create a business where I would want to work and where I would want to get my health care,” she said.
Originally of Cincinnati, Carter came to West Virginia in 1986 to work at the Putnam BirthPlace, now called the FamilyCare Women’s Health and Birth Center. Three years later, she took over the facility from a group of physicians and turned the center into a nonprofit.
Carter said she found West Virginia to be a place where people with initiative and an entrepreneurial spirit can do a lot of good.
“There’s so much that can be done with the ambition of service if you look to see where the needs are, and how you might be able to fill those needs,” Carter said.
She didn’t start with a vision to grow the business into a multi-site health center with 250 employees.
“We just kept looking for where there was need, and doing what we could to fill that need and it just kind of grew,” she said. “West Virginia is just a great place for that, and I don’t think enough people see that.”
The business changed its trade name from WomenCare to FamilyCare in 1999 with the decision to treat all members of the family, Carter said. Since then, it has added services as opportunities and needs arose.
That includes the clinic recently opened on the campus of West Virginia State University, Carter said. FamilyCare officials had talked with Dunbar community members about opening a location there, but didn’t have a way.
“Then we got an invitation from State to put a health center site on their campus, and it’s open to the community,” she said. “I don’t know how many people from the community are actually coming, I need to look at that. But at least we’ve got some presence there, and we can try to grow it.”
FamilyCare is also partnering with a pharmacy to open a clinic in Marmet, she said. Community members there had approached the clinic, but there wasn’t an opportunity, she said.
“So it’s a combination of assessing the needs and then having the opportunity to actually do it,” she said.
FamilyCare also operates a handful of school-based health clinics. The school-based services began with Putnam County schools about a decade ago, she said.
Now there are FamilyCare school-based health centers at Capital High School and Mary C. Snow West Side Elementary. The health center offers dental services at schools in Boone County and is working on setting up a school-based site at Stonewall Jackson Middle School in Charleston.
“We knew that school-based health centers in general were a good way to help kids from missing school because they need to go out for doctors’ appointments or because they were sick,” Carter said. “And the school personnel, we see a lot of the school personnel, too.”
FamilyCare has offered medication-assisted drug abuse treatment for about a decade, starting with a family physician prescribing suboxone in 2009. Today FamilyCare offers medication-assisted treatment at five locations, and has a program for pregnant women.
Carter said there’s still stigma around MAT, something a public education campaign could help dispel.
“[We] have to think of [addiction] as a chronic disease,” she said. “We don’t criticize people with diabetes for having to use insulin for the rest of their lives.
“I think the goal [of medication assisted treatment] is to help people make the changes that they need to make in their lives and not have to take it forever but, like I said, that’s very individualized. Some people can manage their diabetes or their hypertension without [medication] too and some people can’t.”
As she retires, Carter plans to stay in West Virginia. She’ll doing grant review and health center compliance checks for the federal Health Resources and Services Administration.
“I know the health center world and I think it’ll be really interesting to visit other health centers around the country and see what they’re doing,” Carter said.
She also serves as a commissioner on the federal Medicaid and CHIP Payment Access Commission.
FamilyCare’s new CEO, Craig Glover, starts Monday. Glover most recently served as CEO of the Norwalk Community Health Center in Connecticut.
“I think he’s going to be really good,” she said of Glover.
Carter said after 30 years, leaving FamilyCare is bittersweet.
“I’ve got a really strong administrative team and we’ve worked together a long time,” she said. “They’re a strong, resourceful and creative and they’ll do fine but it’s sad. When you’ve got a good staff, it’s hard to leave them.”