Mona Counts, Ph.D
Primary Care Center
Mt. Morris, Pennsylvania
A TOP PRIZEWINNER
2003 CHEROKEE INSPIRED COMFORT AWARD

Mona Counts, Ph.D

Mona Counts provides vital healthcare to Appalachian neighbors.

Mona Counts, Ph.D, a nurse practitioner who started and funded a rural Appalachian clinic with a second mortgage on her home, is one of two top prizewinners in the 2003 Cherokee Inspired Comfort Award.

Mona’s prize package includes a five-day spa vacation in Las Vegas for two people with roundtrip air transportation and hotel accommodations at the New York-New York Hotel & Casino, limousine transportation from the airport to the hotel, and a medical wardrobe featuring Cherokee scrubs and Rockers footwear.

Mona helped found the Primary Care Center of Mt. Morris (Pennsylvania), which serves 5,000 patients in Appalachian Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Women exclusively staff the center with nurse practitioners providing most of the community’s care. The center doesn’t receive federal funding, and many of its patients are uninsured and unable to pay. Payment often is by barter, which caused Mona to waive her salary to keep the clinic open in 2002. The pay and freedom she receives as a professor at the Pennsylvania State University’s School of Nursing – where she educates master’s level students who will become nurse practitioners – gives her the chance to improve the health and lives of patients.

Mona was nominated by Regina Mayolo, a self-employed research associate and grant writer who helps the Primary Care Center apply for funding. For nominating one of two top prizewinners in the 2003 Cherokee Inspired Comfort Award, Regina receives a medical wardrobe featuring Cherokee scrubs and Rockers footwear.

“Mona could be making a lot more money elsewhere, but this is where the need is,” Regina said. “This is her home, this is her family, and these are her neighbors. She’s hired people who were unemployable and given them a chance. Some have gotten their high school diplomas and gone on to college. Whether she’s at home or at the truck stop eating breakfast, people approach her for help, and she helps them. She’s a 24-7 person, and she inspires me.”

A panel of 11 judges consisting of Cherokee Uniforms professionals and national nursing leaders chose winners based on exceptional service, sacrifice and innovation. Bosses, patients and co-workers nominated healthcare professionals throughout the nation for the award. Mona’s willingness to sacrifice everything she holds dear to serve her Appalachian friends and neighbors resonated strongly with the judges.

“Mona represents the kind of selfless dedication and compassion for patients that America sees every day in nurses and other healthcare professionals,” said Michael Singer, president and CEO of Cherokee Uniforms. “Without her and the Primary Care Center of Mt. Morris, there would be no health care for the residents of southwestern Pennsylvania and north central West Virginia. She has put her life and home on the line to help her fellow man.”

Mona has provided public testimony on rural healthcare at federal, state and regional hearings. In 2002, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy G. Thompson appointed Mona to a national panel of healthcare leaders to address serious issues relating to the cost, quality and delivery of primary healthcare services in the U.S.

"Dr. Counts has advanced the role of nurse practitioners and women in nursing and has focused on residents who need healthcare but, for a variety of reasons, find getting that care to be challenging," said Lisa Davis, director of the Pennsylvania Office of Rural Health, located at the Pennsylvania State University. "If someone needs healthcare and they don't have transportation, money or anyone to watch the kids, Mona will figure out a way to get them seen."



It has been her contention that, with a comprehensive referral network of specialists, nurse practitioners could help meet the health care needs for rural communities across the United States.
- Regina Mayolo
Winner's Nomination

Mona Count's nomination was submitted by Regina Mayolo, research associate/grant writer for the Primary Care Center, Mt. Morris, Pennsylvania:

For as long as I have known Mona Counts (Ph.D., CRNP, FNAP, FAANP), she has been pursuing her vision of what rural health care should look like in this country. Years ago, it became apparent for those in the health care industry that physician shortages in rural communities were inevitable. There was a declining number of medical school graduates in primary care; HMO’s were becoming more prominent, causing a decline in reimbursement rates, critical to the survival of primary care in rural areas; and malpractice insurance was too expensive to encourage private practices in small towns.

Mona was part of a growing group of providers who advocated for expanded roles for nurse practitioners. It has been her contention that, with a comprehensive referral network of specialists, nurse practitioners could help meet the health care needs for rural communities across the United States. She set out to prove this by working with the residents of Mt. Morris, Pennsylvania, to establish a nurse-managed practice in the small, Appalachian town to provide health care for the people in a five-township area.

The clinic, the Primary Care Center of Mt. Morris, Inc. (PCC), serves nearly 4,000 patients, predominantly uninsured and underinsured, including a large number of medical assistance families, retired coal miners and farmers. And they have been successful, against growing adversity. Health outcomes have been positive but the impact of managed care has been fiscally devastating. Revenues for the clinic have been declining at an alarming rate; and there is opposition to nurse practitioners in private practice from insurance companies who control managed care in this part of Pennsylvania.

Mona has not let this stop her – she believes that the climate is changing and that insurance companies will soon be forced to recognize nurse practitioners for the contributions they can make to the provision of health care. In addition, her goal is to achieve fiscal sustainability for the PCC by attaining cost-based reimbursement through FQHC Look-Alike and Community Health Center designation for the clinic.

But this is a timely process, not easily achieved in a single year, and the clinic during 2002 was in financial straits.

Mona is the kind of person who stands by their convictions, no matter what effect it may have on them personally. As a graduate faculty member of the Pennsylvania State University’s School of Nursing, Mona asked the university to release her for one day per week to provide clinical expertise for the PCC. As the clinical director for the PCC, she waived her salary from the clinic and has only collected partial payments for her work as a provider and administrator. The savings realized by the PCC allowed them to remain in operation in 2002, something that would not have been possible without her efforts. Her generosity allowed them to keep their doors open, and gave them the time they needed to complete the application for Look-Alike designation, which was submitted in January 2003. She, literally, put her money where her mouth is.

The board of directors and staff at the PCC are hopeful as they enter 2003 but, regardless of what happens, they will not forget the dedication and selflessness of Dr. Mona M. Counts. She is an inspiration for all of us, and I am proud to nominate her for your Inspired Comfort Award for her work in 2002.

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