The old, red-brick house in Greensboro, where Bob MtJoy and Greene County’s first clinic got its start, stands as testimony to good things that sometimes begin small, then go on to grow with the community they were formed to serve. “The waiting room was there,” MtJoy says as he points to the living room window. “And my office was upstairs.”
He’s suited up for a bike ride, getting in shape for an upcoming retirement adventure around the tip of Florida, from Fort Lauderdale to the Keys. Today’s training ride will be on the roads around Greensboro and will give MtJoy a chance to reminisce a bit about how he did his part to make health care both available and affordable in the underserved communities of Greene, Washington and Fayette counties.
Cornerstone Care Inc. is a thriving network of community health centers in Greensboro, Rogersville, Waynesburg, Mt. Morris, Burgettstown, Washington and Uniontown that serves more than 22,000 patients a year. Services include family practice, pediatrics, dental, psychiatry and counseling.
But in the 1970s, having this kind of care available to ordinary folks was only a great notion waiting to be born.
Greene County’s poverty statistics in the 1970s stimulated federal and state government investment to make health care and human services available in needy communities. When MtJoy graduated from West Liberty University in 1976 with a double major in psychology and sociology, he found there were jobs to be had at home with the county’s new human services programs that were responding to the needs of his neighbors and friends.
“I grew up in Nemacolin and went to Carmichaels High School, so I know this area and the people. My first job was with Washington Greene Community Action as a social worker in the day care program. I worked six different positions in nine years, and when the chance came up to work in community health care, I was ready to try and see if I could be of help.”
Those early health care centers of the 1970s faced difficulties, both in finding space to practice in and in recruiting and retaining health care providers, MtJoy notes. “Communities can build health care centers, but often the greatest challenge is maintaining the services.”
Greene County’s first health center – in the house that was once a mine superintendent’s home – was known as Southeast Greene Community Health Center. A group of concerned citizens had formed a board, and for a decade provided family health care in Greensboro. It also had a satellite center in Bobtown, in the old St. Ignatius Church, that offered both primary health and dental care.
“You could get your teeth worked on and look out stained-glass windows,” MtJoy remembers with a grin.
The health center continued to provide services, but was facing an uncertain future when MtJoy took the helm in 1988.
“It was difficult to find providers, and the buildings weren’t designed to provide health care. Plans had been in the works for years to build a center, and that was my first challenge.”
MtJoy settled into his upstairs office in the red-brick house, and he and his board began to work together to find the funds and staff they needed to survive. In 1989, an 8,000-square-foot center was built where the old Glassworks grade school once stood, and the services in Bobtown and the house across the road moved in.
“I benefitted from the community members who were concerned not for themselves but for their community,” MtJoy says of the 27 years he devoted to growing this grassroots health care organization. “Our success is contributable to our partnerships with hospitals, businesses and other nonprofits. One of our mandates is that the majority of our board members must be our patients. They represent the community, and they guide us in addressing their needs.”
It soon became evident that one health care center was not enough for Greene County.
Residents in the western end were struggling to find services, so when the building that was once West Greene Health Services in Rogersville came up for sale, MtJoy and his board bought it, and in 1992 opened their first satellite center. It was now time to change their name to Cornerstone Care – a reference to Greene County’s keystone position in the southwestern corner of the state, and to also stress that “primary health care is the foundation of the health care delivery system,” MtJoy says. “Our success was in taking advantage of opportunities and partnerships to address health care needs.”
The Greensboro office continued to grow, and by 1995 Cornerstone was partnering with other organizations to provide child and family development centers and extra counseling and exam rooms. Cornerstone reached out beyond county lines when it merged in 1996 with Community Medical Center of Northwest Washington County to create Cornerstone Care Community Medical and Dental Plaza. Recognizing patients’ needs, it opened Waynesburg Counseling and Psychiatry Center in 2004. The following year, Cornerstone added Pediatrics Associates of Washington County, and three years later added Central Greene Pediatrics in Waynesburg.
As the responsibilities grew, MtJoy went back to school with the Johnson & Johnson UCLA Health Care Executive Program in 2005 and did graduate work at West Virginia University.
Access to dental services for lower income families was a crisis that Cornerstone Care was willing to make a priority.
“So many problems begin with poor dental care – everything from health issues to the self-esteem it takes to get a job. We were determined to make dental health education and treatment something every child learns, and is available to underserved families,” MtJoy says.
Dental services were available in Greensboro, but MtJoy saw the larger need and was willing to act.
Cornerstone built its Waynesburg office in 2011 that offers both dental care and psychiatry and counseling services. Cornerstone’s Uniontown office provided family medicine and dental services when it opened in 2010, and dental was part of the continuing services when Cornerstone merged in 2011 with the Primary Care Center of Mt. Morris and constructed a new building. Cornerstone’s Mobile Unit is a fully equipped medical and dental office, ready to go into the community whenever the need arises.
“One of my proudest successes is the Teaching Health Center, slash Family Practice Residency at the Mt. Morris center that provides physician training with an emphasis to practice in underserved rural communities,” MtJoy says.
MtJoy’s efforts have not gone unnoticed by his peers. He received the national Betsey K. Cooke Grassroots MVP Award in 2012 for “outstanding effort and unflagging persistence as a grassroots advocate” along with state recognition with the Carolyn Baxter Lifetime Achievement Award from the Pennsylvania Association of Community Health Centers when he got ready to retire in 2016 at age 64. But the Benjamin Rush Award, given to him in 1992 by the Greene County Medical Society, is what a grateful community of medical providers had to say about his good work.
“I got this award the year after we opened the health center in Rogersville. Doc Sonneborn was nearing retirement, and the community was desperate. It was a need that I am proud to say we were able to address.”
MtJoy, back from that Florida biking adventure, is sitting at the dining room table, surrounded by maps. He looks relaxed, smiling, ready for the next bike trip. “I have confidence that the success of Cornerstone Care will continue with the leadership of the board and very capable staff.”