While others continue to ponder how to solve one of the nation’s largest problems-- health care, Dr.Gary Bickford is doing something about it. Bickford is the founder of Healthy Life Clinics, a system he developed for offering medical services to the poor and underprivileged.
It was at age 56, when Bickford was newly retired from Dupont where he had worked in medical diagnostics, that he decided to return to school at the University of Tennessee to become a board certified nurse practitioner. Armed with a plan for a different way of delivering health care, Bickford saw a new way to fulfill his dream of establishing family medical clinics for the truly needy.
Although the coursework was demanding and time spent in training was taxing, he fulfilled the requirements and set out to make his plan a reality.
Bickford opened the first of what would become five Healthy Life Clinics in October 2009. Unfortunately, the growth of the clinics proved to be unsustainable as finding qualified and responsible providers to run the other sites he opened was difficult and two clinics were closed. The three that remain open are located in Knoxville at 110 G Perimeter Park and 900 W Baxter Avenue, with one also open in Jamestown, TN.
According to Mark Toney, the Industrial Medicine Manager for the Healthy Life Clinics, patients receive full care and are seen by doctors who prescribe medicine, perform minor procedures and treat common health issues such as sore throats, flu, as well as screenings for more serious diseases. The company takes all forms of insurance, but deals mainly with TennCare, Medicaid, Medicare and cash. The way Healthy Life Clinics is able to access these providers is a large part of the design of the system Bickford created. They take pride in the fact that they are paperless.
Bickford, now 66, says that he is joyful about the success of his system, however, he currently works between 60 to 70 hours per week seeing upward of 40 patients a day. His record is 59 patients seen in one day, he says. In order to make HLC work, Bickford says he has borrowed over $1 million dollars over the years and has used his own money from his 401(k). His clinics receive no money from the government. The largest challenge he has faced is that of keeping the clinics going while waiting on payments that can take 30, 60, and even 90 days or more to arrive.
Bickford's efforts have not gone unnoticed, not only does he receive praise from the thousands of patients who have been helped by his system, he has also won awards in Washington, D.C. through SCORE (Service Core of Retired Executives) for the 2011 Outstanding Small Business Launched by an Individual Age 50-Plus and Walden University’s Alumni of the Year--an honor that came with a $5,000 cash award. Bickford used $2,500 of the award money for his favorite charity, the Healthy Life Clinics he founded.
SCORE is a nonprofit association dedicated to educating entrepreneurs and helping small businesses start, grow, and succeed nationwide. SCORE is a resource partner with the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), and has been mentoring small business owners for more than forty years.
Bickford says that he plans to franchise his clinics, and winning these important awards will give him great credibility as he goes forward with his medical mission. Franchising will help him to expand greatly in the work and help other dedicated providers to be successful.
Another large part of Bickford’s life’s work is spent providing medical care, along with his friend, Stan Brock in the Remote Area Medical clinics.
All in all, Dr. Bickford and his teams are to be praised for their work in this much needed area.