Clifton Bush – Giving Back to His Community

By Brad McEwen

Over the past several years Albany Area Primary Health Care has made great strides toward expanding health care coverage in rural southwest Georgia. Through varying funding sources, the organization has increased its number of providers and is now offering dental and vision services, mental health care, expanded OBGYN services and has opened school-based health clinics in several area schools.

While it has certainly taken the hard work of a great number of people to achieve these successes, there is no doubt that the dedication and drive of the organization’s Chief Operating Officer Clifton Bush has helped push AAPHC to where it is today.

A native Albanian and product of the local school system, Clifton has spent the last 12 years devoting himself to improving the quality of life in his community and the surrounding region through his work with Albany Area.

“I feel that I have something in me, a need to give back to this community that I grew up in,” Clifton told me during a recent chat in his Westover Boulevard office. “People always ask me, ‘man, why don’t you move to Atlanta?’ Well, that’s not where I want to be. I could have gone anywhere else, gone to Atlanta or to Texas, but why do that when this is the community I grew up in and can give back to? I like helping THIS community.”

Indeed, after earning both a Bachelor of Science in Health Care Management and a Bachelor of Science in Business Management from Albany State University, as well as a Master of Science in Health Care Management from Troy University, Clifton certainly could have relocated to any number of places—like far too many of our educated sons and daughters tend to do. But thankfully for Albany and Dougherty County he saw opportunity here and a chance to not only remain close to his family, but to effect real change in people’s lives.

Within six months of graduating from ASU Clifton said he found the ideal place for him, taking a job as an indigent drug facilitator with AAPHC, before quickly moving into the organization’s management trainee program.

Always one to keep learning and taking on new responsibilities, Clifton told me it wasn’t long after joining the trainee program that he was asked to take on his first managerial position, becoming the operations manager of Albany Area’s East Albany Pediatrics and Adolescent Center.

After roughly five years in that role, Clinton advanced again becoming the organization’s specialty service director and about three years after that was named COO.

When asked how he advanced through the ranks of the organization so quickly Clifton gave credit to his upbringing and his willingness to take on any challenge that was presented.

“I get my work ethic from my parents probably, just watching how my parents work and the things that my dad has instilled in me,” said Clifton. “He was a hard worker that took on a lot of projects, just like I do, and liked to take on those projects and have a good time doing them.

“I think I’ve been able to advance by being able to learn a variety of things within the organization; like when I was at East Albany Pediatrics I helped open, with one of our other managers, and was the interim manager for, our Vienna clinic. Then over at OBYGN, when one of our managers left, I stepped up again as the manager there and learned what I needed to do. So I think just being able to learn a variety of things and being able to multitask has helped me.”

As I sat and talked with Clifton I had no doubt those reasons had a lot to do with his steady ascension in the organization, but I also formed the opinion that perhaps the greatest reason he’s had success at AAPHC comes from his earnest desire to find new and innovative ways for Albany Area to expand its reach in the communities it serves.

Throughout our conversation, he repeatedly revealed his true nature by constantly shifting the focus away from Clifton and directing it back toward the work Albany Area Primary Health Care is doing to address health needs in rural Georgia.

In talking with Clifton everything was very much, “we,” rather than “I” and “us” instead of “me,” which, as far as I’m concerned, is the mark of a truly dedicated servant leader.

As a case in point, although he was instrumental in formulating the school-based health program that has resulted in the placement of in-school clinics at Turner Elementary School and Alice Coachman Elementary in Dougherty County; a clinic in Terrell County that services elementary, middle and high school; a clinic in Crisp County that serves grades kindergarten through 3rd; and a clinic in Dooly County that services the pre-K, elementary school and middle school, Clifton prefers to talk about the success of those clinics rather than his hand in making them a reality.

“It’s very important,” he said of the work going on at the clinics. “With the school-based clinics if you’re helping the students with their health, starting them out by teaching them about their health, and you’ve got nurses and providers in the school doing that, in the long-run that’s going to help them with their education and them ultimately going to college and things like that.”

For many of the students and their families the clinics really are their only reliable access to medical care and because of that, they are having a powerful and direct impact on student health outcomes as well.

“There’s been great stories coming out those clinics,” added Clifton. “We had a child at the Dooly clinic that came in for a physical and she had a finger stick and her blood sugar was very high. We got in touch with the grandparent and told the grandparent, ‘go to the pharmacy, get this medication, this child is a diabetic.’

“That’s the thing we see, that a child would have their well-child exam to get into kindergarten because they have to, but after that they never go back unless something happens to them. And we’ve found things, like the child that came in for a physical and found out she was a diabetic. She probably had issues but just was ignoring them.

“So we’ve found a lot of issues with kids when they come in.”

With those types if positive outcomes it’s no wonder Clifton is excited about many of the expanded services that will soon be provided through the school-based health program. Already there are plans to begin offering dental and mental health services through the clinics and Clifton is incredibly enthusiastic about the upcoming introduction of vision services through the school-based health program, which is something he’s worked hard to bring to fruition.

“I’m always looking for opportunities to bring on other things within the organization,” Clifton said. “Soon we’ll be starting vision. We never had vision and we got a grant through an organization called One Sight. It’s about a $400,000 grant and we will implement vision services at Alice Coachman Elementary School.”

Clifton said the organization has already seen some success with limited vision screenings done with assistance from Peach State Health, which recently provided a mobile vision van to visit each of the six school clinics.

“They did over 800 vision screenings and about 150-170, I believe, of those kids got free glasses because they needed glasses,” he said. “That’s very important because if a child can’t see then they can’t learn. And half of the time that’s kind of what’s wrong with the child and the parents can’t afford to get them glasses.

“With the One Sight grant, that’s going to be the great thing, we’re going to get, based on the poverty guidelines, kids that fall into the uninsured or underinsured range free frames.”

“And through that program we’ll also be able to service the entire Dougherty County School System. The Dougherty County School System will be providing bus transportation from the schools for the students to come get their vision services as Alice Coachman.”

Clifton added that the real beauty of the school-based clinics is that they fit in with the larger mission AAPHC has of providing better access to health care for a population in dire need.

“I think we’re helping the community to become better and helping individuals with barriers,” he said. “A lot of times if we can’t get people to come to us for care, we take the care to them, such as with the school-based clinics. We’re here to serve the community and we have plenty of services to do that.”

There’s no denying there are a lot of positives that come out of the work that Clifton and the others at AAPHC are doing for the community, but the COO did acquiesce that sometimes it can be difficult having to serve a client base that lives largely in poverty and that it seems there’s always more work that needs to be done.

“There’s always more that can be done,” he said. “I don’t know that there will ever be enough, but that’s why we’re always looking for ways to help. My mind is always turning and my CEO (Shelley Spires) says the same thing. When we’re not at work or when we’re on vacation your mind is always turning; ‘what else can I do to help this community or the other communities that we serve? What other things can we do?’”

Fortunately Clifton said he’s able to see so many positive results from the various AAPHC initiatives that it keeps him motived and drives his desire to do more.

“We’re very, very, very busy, but at the end of the day, seeing the outcomes like the kids getting free frames, that excites me,” he said enthusiastically. “Being able to provide behavioral health services to people that are not able to get it, OBGYN services to individuals who probably never went for OB services until they were delivering a baby because they couldn’t afford to go, those are the different outcomes and the quality metrics that we track. That’s what keeps me going.”

Of course it helps that Clifton seems hardwired to stay involved. He said both his mother and his father have always been active in their community and that his older brother and sister are both very much the same way, with the former serving in the United States Navy and the latter forging a career as a school teacher.

Additionally Clifton said he was active working as a volunteer as a teenager and then became heavily involved in various activities while at ASU.

“We were in church and we were always volunteering,” said Clifton. “Our parents always had us doing things in the community.

“Then in college I was very involved. I was a student leader, so I helped with freshmen orientation. Then I was always on the student activities advisory board. We planned student activities for Homecoming and activities year-round for the campus. And I was of course Vice President of SGA and then I was in Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity. I was also in the Center for African American Males, so I was involved with that as well.”

And that willingness to get involved has continued into adulthood as Clifton is a member of various civic and charitable organizations and recently served as Chair of the United Way of Southwest Georgia board. Currently he is serving on the boards of the Kiwanis Club of Dougherty County and Leadership Albany as well.

“I like to be involved,” Clifton said. “I like to help where I can.”

Despite being a husband to April Bush, a 3rd grade teacher at Northside Elementary School, and father to 1 year-old Cayden, Clifton said his various responsibilities only motivate him to keep going and keep trying to have a positive impact on his home community and those surrounding communities which Albany Area Primary Health serves.

“I was always interested in helping people,” he said matter-of-factly. “It’s a good feeling a lot of times to see people come in and say ‘thank you for the great things you’ve done for us.’

“I’m glad I’m able to give back to the community that I grew up in. That’s one of the main reasons I stayed here. I really enjoy seeing the great outcomes, again, of the things that we’re able to do within our organization with health care and beyond, and just helping people and giving back.”

And as far as I’m concerned it’s most assuredly a good feeling to know that someone like Clifton Bush—a young, intelligent, family-oriented individual, who could have taken his talents anywhere he chose—is right here in my hometown, doing everything in his power to make sure that my children will inherit a stronger and healthier Albany, GA.

Connect with Brad – 229.405.7212 - brad.mcewen@abtgold.com - @BradGMcEwen