Subsidized medical center proposed for Senoia

by Sarah Fay Campbell

Palmetto Health Council is applying for a grant to bring a subsidized medical clinic to Coweta, proposed for the Senoia area.

The non-profit health council, which operates clinics in Palmetto, Carrollton, Greenville, Barnesville and Zebulon under the name “Your Town Health,” has applied for a grant through the Affordable Care Act.

There is money available for the expansion of community health centers, said John Wollenzien, CEO of Palmetto Health Council. “Regardless of your political persuasion, at this point in time, the community health center program is pretty much a bipartisan program. We have continued to grow under a Republican president as well as a Democratic president.”

Most of the clinics offer primary care/family medicine, while some also offer psychiatric care and dental care. The Greenville clinic offers dental only. The main clinic in Palmetto also offers OB/Gyn services.

Services are open to all, with lower prices for those at 200 percent of the poverty level or below.

For those at or below the poverty level, the cost for a visit is $25. Patients between 100 and 200 percent of the poverty level pay a percentage of the total cost based on their income. Those over 200 percent of the poverty level pay the full cost, which is still significantly lower than many physicians' offices. A regular office visit for those above 200 percent of the poverty level is $83. The minimum charge for dental services is $40.

The Palmetto office also has a “walk-in clinic” where the charge is $50 to see a nurse practitioner.

“I imagine we will also set up that same scenario in Coweta,” Wollenzien said.

“We would also work to bring mental health services into the county. I know that mental health services in Coweta County are a huge problem."

There are two phases to the grant process. The initial application was due Aug. 20, and the final one is due Oct. 7. The Oct. 7 application will include “the whole narrative, everything we’ve planned to do, any partnerships we’ve created in the community to help enhance our services,” he said.

“We’re getting the word out. We’re talking to a number of different business leaders. We’ve asked for several letters of support,” Wollenzien said. “We want to make sure we’ve got the medical community's support.”

“We have talked with Piedmont Health System, which, right now, is really taking on the brunt of a lot of uninsured and underinsured patients through the emergency room,” he said. "They are very supportive of us coming into the community."

About a year ago, Palmetto Health Council decided to change its operating name to “Your Town Health.”

“We wanted to have a name that created ownership – this is your town’s health center. We’re here in your town,” Wollenzien said.

They try to provide a “patient centered medical home” for their clients. Hopes are to take care of uninsured and underinsured individuals “before they get to the point where they need to go to the hospital,” he said. "The hospitals can’t afford” to keep taking care of patients who can’t pay.

If the grant is awarded, plans are to locate the office in the Senoia area. The grant requires that the clinics be located in areas that are considered “medically underserved.”

In Coweta, the Senoia/Haralson area and western Coweta near the Heard County line are considered medically underserved.

As of the 2010 Census, some 36,000 Cowetans live at 200 percent of the poverty level or below, and there are 19,000 uninsured individuals in the county. There are approximately 6,000 Cowetans on Medicaid.

Individuals with Medicaid sometimes can have a hard time finding a doctor that will accept it, according to Wollenzien. And there aren’t many physicians that are “taking on long-term care of the uninsured,” he said.

“We are serving the patient population that is falling into the cracks right now,” Wollenzien said.

They plan to work with Coweta Samaritan Clinic, which provides free services to those under 200 percent of the poverty level but can only serve a small number of patients.

Expanding into Coweta is something Palmetto Health Council has wanted to do for years.

“We’ve talked and thought and planned … and we’re finally to the point where it makes sense,” Wollenzien said. “Everything has fallen into place.”

There will be a long wait to know if they get the grant – the award won’t be announced until May. And once they get the notice, they’ll have only 120 days to get operational.

That means they’ll likely have to have a facility lined up.

“We’re not going to be able to build. We’ll have to go in somewhere with a lease situation, then after we get there, we can decide if we want to build another office,” he said. Grant funding can’t be used to build a building, but it can help pay some of the rent. “But not a lot, because they really want 100 percent of the funding to go to subsidized care,” Wollenzien said.

Wollenzien said they’ll need 3,000 to 3,500 square feet to start with, and they are actively looking for a space in the Senoia/Haralson area.

In the meantime, Coweta residents can access the services of the other Your Town Health clinics. For more information, visit www.YourTownHealth.com or call the Palmetto office, located at 643 Main Street at 770-463-4644.

For the corporate office, call 404-929-8824.



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