How Children's Volunteer Health Network Works

When people can't afford health care, they go without.
When people can't afford health care, they go without.

Florida's Emerald Coast -- the northwest portion of the state that lies along its panhandle -- is home to the beautiful beaches of Destin and Ft. Walton. With soft, bright-white sand consisting of finely ground quartz shipped down from the Appalachian region, the beaches are a favorite stop for tourists and their dollars.

The Emerald Coast region inspires thoughts in countless minds of picking up and moving to the beach for good, but for those who do live in the counties in northwest Florida, life isn't a never-ending sunset or bottomless frozen drink. Beach or no beach, jobs are scarce in the area, and many available positions are relatively low-paying jobs in the service industry. The largest contributor to the local economy is Eglin Air Force Base, the largest Air Force base in the world.


Even before the national economic meltdown of 2008, many families in northwest Florida couldn't afford comprehensive health care or health insurance. And just like many families all over America, the inability of many Floridians in two coastal counties -- Okaloosa and Walton -- to secure health insurance meant that general checkups went unscheduled and medical services weren't received. Instead, time and hope served as self-prescriptions for pain and illness. More than one in five kids in Walton County are uninsured, and three out of five are without dental insurance [source: CVHN].

Back in 2005, when one child in the area needed orthodontic treatment that his family couldn't afford, a member of a local church did some brainstorming. Instead of raising money from other community or church members to pay for the child's treatment, Tricia Carlisle-Northcutt decided to reach out directly to the medical community. After working the phones, Carlisle-Northcutt lined up a nearby orthodontist willing to volunteer his services.

The child, whose then-jumbled mouth of teeth had been the cause of self-consciousness, ridicule and eventually behavioral problems, received the treatment he needed, and both his academics and behavior in the classroom improved. The young boy's life took on an upward trajectory, and so too did a new program: Children's Volunteer Health Network.

Health Care Crisis in the Florida Panhandle

Many families can't afford effective health care insurance.
Many families can't afford effective health care insurance.

There are more than 45 million people in America without any health coverage [source: U.S. Census Bureau]. Nearly 7 million of those people are children [source: CDC]. In Walton County, Fla., there are around 54,000 total residents. Of the 11,000 children who live in Walton County, 2,500 of them don't have health insurance [source: U.S. Census Bureau, CVHN]. In the entire state of Florida, there are more than 840,000 kids without health insurance, and 340,000 of those uninsured kids live in poverty [source: statehealthfacts].

But aren't children who aren't privately insured covered by federal or state Medicaid services like Florida's Kid Care program? Some are, but not all. Some lower-income families don't meet all the criteria to receive government assistance. Also, months or even years may pass before an application for disability coverage is approved. A person must be jobless for two months before applying for unemployment benefits (and, until 2009, the waiting period had been six months).


Families may have just moved into the state and haven't established residency, or a child in need of medical intervention may have parents who aren't legal residents. Pregnant women and the children of parents working for the state of Florida aren't eligible for the state's Kid Care program [source: Bousquet].

The hospital that serves that portion of Northwest Florida -- Sacred Heart on the Emerald Coast -- spends as much as $1.5 million each month on providing care without any compensation whatsoever in return.

While many families do have Medicaid coverage, there's a shortage of health care providers who accept it. This is in part due to cuts in funding to the state Medicaid program and also a lack of recruitment on the part of the state to sign more doctors up. So while only two out of five kids in Walton County have any dental insurance at all, there aren't any dentists in the county who accept Medicaid, and only one in Okaloosa who does.

The result is a serious health care crisis in northwest Florida. Many of these uninsured children receive no preventive care, and many don't receive the help they need when they get sick or hurt. This can culminate in longer illnesses, more missed school days and a poorer state of health than children who do receive preventive and routine care.

The Solution: CVHN

Preventive care is next to impossible for those without health insurance.
Preventive care is next to impossible for those without health insurance.

Children's Volunteer Health Network (CVHN) is a faith-based charitable network of health care providers who volunteer free time and services to uninsured and underinsured kids who live in either Okaloosa County or Walton County. CVHN also sponsors a free prescription card program. It operates on donations and the goodwill of local health care providers, with no government assistance.

Among the health care providers that give their services through CVHN are:


  • Doctors
  • Dentists
  • Orthodontists
  • Psychiatrists
  • Psychologists
  • Imaging companies
  • Medical laboratories

CVHN serves school-age children, and the program operates from within the public school system. Teachers, administrators and counselors refer children who may be in need of services to the school nurse. The nurse obtains parental permission and sends a referral form to CVHN.

A case worker at CVHN then matches the child with a participating care provider. These providers volunteer a certain number of free visits or services each month. The case worker schedules the appointment, gets in touch with the family and finds out if the family can take the child to the appointment. If not, the case worker arranges for a prescreened CVHN volunteer to pick up the child at school and drive the child to the doctor or pharmacy and then return the child to school.

After the health care provider sees the child, a report is sent back to the case manager. The case manager, based on this report, can then make follow-up appointments if any are necessary.

But that's not all. Nearly half of CVHN's emergency calls are related to dental care, so CVHN now operates a free-of-charge, mobile dental clinic in the form of a large, specially equipped bus in a program called "Just for Grins."

This program is also run through the public school system and is available to students in grades kindergarten through third who are enrolled in free or subsidized school lunch programs. This is no small pool of candidates -- around 64 percent of Walton County students are enrolled in these lunch programs [source: CVHN]. In addition to raising dental awareness, "Just for Grins" provides preventive care, such as dental exams, cleanings, sealants and fluoride treatments to help reduce and prevent cavities. Here's something to smile about: More than 800 school children in Walton County and Okaloosa County were helped through this program in the 2008-2009 school year.

See the next page for more articles on health volunteering.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles


  • Bousquet, Steve; Reinhard, Beth. "Charlie Crist's 'fly-around' costs taxpayers." Miami Herald. June 2, 2009.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Uninsured Americans: Newly Released Health Insurance Statistics." Aug. 6, 2007. (July 18, 2009)
  • Children's Volunteer Health Network. (July 15, 2009)
  • Economic Development Council of Okaloosa County. (July 15, 2009)
  • Enterprise Florida. "Okaloosa County." (July 15, 2009)
  • Fedstats. "Walton County, Florida." (July 16, 2009)
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  • Sacred Heart Hospital on the Emerald Coast. "About Sacred Heart Hospital on the Emerald Coast." (July 14, 2009)
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  • U.S. Census Bureau. "State & County QuickFacts: Walton County, Florida." July 10, 2009.
  • Whitney, Ray. "State to Help More Uninsured Kids." Capitol News Service. June 2, 2009.