Diane Westcott lends order, compassion to free clinic
I t’s a full-time job and then some overseeing Cleburne’s HOPE Medical and Dental Clinic, but Executive Director Diane Westcott insists she wouldn’t have it any other way. “This is the most rewarding job I’ve ever had,” Westcott said. “It’s stressful, but rewarding. You have to enjoy what you do. Life’s too short.” Westcott has served as director since the clinic’s founding in 2007. “I guess because have I compassion, a heart for medicine and ministry,” Westcott said. “It’s kind of unique my role here because an executive director usually has more of an administrative role. I have that here, but also the dayto-day operations because there’s no one else to do it. So that means I do the budget, do the recruiting, do just nearly everything.
“I have staff under me to help manage but I’m responsible for contacting physicians to try to get them to volunteer and many other things. Directing traffic is a good way to put it I suppose.” The Hope Clinic, 111 Meadow View Drive, shares a building with Cleburne Seventh-day Adventist Church, although the two operate as separate entities. Dr. Tony Torres, long-term pastor of the church, founded the clinic to assist the uninsured in Cleburne, Johnson and Hill counties. Pinning Westcott down for an interview proved tricky but she finally found time to talk during a rare moderately slow day in early December. “It’s usually very busy, especially when we have multiple clinics going on,” Westcott said. “Today, we don’t have a doctor in this afternoon and two of our nurse practitioners just moved on so we’re waiting to replace those.
A career in the medical field was probably always in the cards, Westcott said, although not the one her parents suggested when she was young. “My parents always pushed me toward being a nurse,” Westcott said “But that never really interested me.” A 1971 graduate of Chisholm Trail Academy in Keene, Westcott took courses in bookkeeping, accounting, medical transcription and terminology but earned no degree. She did, however, develop a strong work ethic and gung ho attitude early on. “My aunt, who is a nurse, told me about a job at the hospital in White Settlement,” Westcott said. “It was maybe a 10-bed hospital in the middle of White Settlement. I don’t even know if it’s still there. It was a one doc office, Dr. Jesse Hall, he’s passed away now, but my aunt told me he needed someone to help him run the place.” Though Westcott was only 18 and had never worked in a doctor’s office, it deterred her not one bit. “I went in one day, introduced myself and told him, ‘I can do this if you just give me a chance,’” Westcott said. “I told Dr. Hall I wanted $5 an hour and if I stayed over six weeks I wanted $6 an hour. He just looked at me and said, ‘You’ve a brazenness about you.’ But he hired me and I stayed there four years.” And with that, Westcott found a major part of the puzzle of what she refers to as her mission or calling. “From there it just evolved,” Westcott said. “It’s funny because, with this job, I can look back on the different clinics or doctors I worked with and realize that I learned something from each one that I’ve put to work at HOPE Clinic. “I also learned the importance of flexibility through working with so many people and personalities, positions and jobs through the years. The main difference between those and this is that all those earlier jobs were for-profit businesses.” Through the years Westcott also operated her own business assisting doctors’ offices with insurance matters, mergers of practices and helping individual doctors set up their practices. “The big [HEB Harris Methodist Professional Building], I had 12 clinics and I think it was 12 doctors and 100 or something staff, I got all of that on the same system,” Westcott said. “Same medical records, same paperwork, same policies and procedures to merge to go into that building. That was the biggest one I did.”
Westcott had known Torres for some time, having attended church at Cleburne Seventh-day Adventist Church since she was 16. “I was between jobs and he told me he needed help starting the clinic,” Westcott said. “At that time I had just gotten out of the hospital and wasn’t feeling well but told him I’d help for a while. A while turned into 11 years and I’m still here.” Westcott, Torres said, harbored reservations but didn’t hesitate to jump right in. “It was a whole new mind set from what she had been doing,” Torres said. “At first she didn’t believe that doctors would actually volunteer their time, but it didn’t take long for her to fall right into place and make the adjustment from working in the private practice, for-profit arenas.” Getting HOPE afloat proved a challenge, Torres said, which took a couple of years through which Westcott worked gratis initially. “But she was also the obvious choice for me,” Torres said. “Because she brought 20 years experience of medical office management experience. She had the connections, knew the ins and outs, the logistics of how this works and how to get results. Which, I thought, would make her a tremendous asset to what we were trying to do.” Westcott said she soon realized that what began as simply helping a friend soon transformed into a major meant to be life moment. “It was a passion, a purpose, I realized,” Westcott said. “God put me here for a reason. And you have to have a passion for it. You can’t come in here and deal with the stress, and there’s a lot of stress otherwise. You see the patients and what they’re going through and it just gets to your heart. That’s the same with the doctors and everyone who volunteers here. You have to have a missionary mind and it has to be part of your heart.” HOPE Clinic is both similar and different than her earlier career in the medical field, Westcott said. “As far as actual practice habits it’s the same set up,” Westcott said. You have the same paperwork, same medical records, same staffing issues, same flow. The difference is we don’t do billing, don’t have to deal with insurance.
HOPE Clinic, Westcott said, exists to fill the niche of those who fall through the cracks regardless of circumstance. “You’d be surprised how many come here who are well-to-do, white collar workers who had insurance all their lives and, all the sudden, they lost their job and so there went their benefits. They have medications they need but they can’t go see a doctor because they can’t afford a $150 office visit because there’s no income. So we can tide them over until they get back on their feet. Then we also see a lot of women whose husbands have passed on and yet they’re not old enough for Medicare and so we take care of them until they get there.” All — Westcott listed getting to know the patients as the most rewarding part of her job — share one common trait. “That, by far, is that they’re just so grateful to have a doctor and worried that we’re not going to be here forever when they need us,” Westcott said. “We reassure them that it’s God’s clinic and as long as he wants us here we’ll be here. “But they’re very grateful and voice that all the time. Some of them haven’t had medical care in years and then they find out about us. Some are in pretty sad shape when they get here and we get a lot of hugs and crying before many of our patients leave. Just, they’re overwhelmed with the fact that they’ve finally found help. They’ve got their medications. They’ve got their labs. If they need a specialist we can work to get them into Baylor, Scott & White.” All of which, while rewarding, leaves Westcott scant time for personal time. “Don’t have the time,” Westcott said when asked what she watches on TV. She does enjoy the music of Willie Nelson, Tim McGraw and Keith Urban when she finds the time and riding. “Horses, we have horses and motorcycles,” Westcott said. “My husband and I have a Gull Wing so we travel when we can. Whenever I’m not here I’m usually on a horse. I’ve been riding for many years.” Scanning the pictures of the great outdoors hanging in her office, Westcott said she dreams of riding her horse through pine tree forests and mountains though her primary bucket list item remains a return trip to the land of her birth. “My parents are from Oklahoma and we moved here in 1969 after dad retired from the Air Force,” Westcott said. “But I was actually born in England when he was stationed there.” The Parish of Wimpole to be exact. “No clue,” Westcott joked when asked where that sits in relation to London. “I was 2 when we left and haven’t been back. But that’s something I hope to do someday, go back and see where I was born.” For now, however, her family and HOPE Clinic occupy Westcott’s time, which, one gets the feeling, is how she prefers it. “Anybody that’s been here or worked here or had anything at all to do with the clinic, their lives are changed,” Westcott said. “There’s just no way you can get involved here without your whole life being changed. I can look back 10, 11 years back and I wish so many times that I had time to sit down and write down the things that have happened, just the miracles one after another. It’s almost daily. So many times we’ve needed something for the clinic and before we could even start looking for it somebody walked in the door and volunteered or donated.” Westcott’s role in HOPE Clinic is much appreciated at well. “She helps keep all the parts moving,” Dr. Steve Johnson said. “The professional help are pretty much all volunteers but she coordinates everything from patients all the way through the doctors. She maintains the structure that it takes for the clinic to operate.” Sandy Ledbetter, treasurer of HOPE Clinic’s board, characterized Westcott’s role as a labor of love and service. “She works untold hours and really is just the backbone of our organization.” Torres said Westcott is more than that. “Diane is one of the biggest reasons for the success of HOPE Clinic,” Torres said. “She has made it work and without her I don’t think we would have made it.”