Macon clinic applies for grant to open Warner Robins location

chwright@macon.comApril 9, 2013 

WARNER ROBINS -- Taxi fare to Houston County’s only public health clinic, located on Cohen Walker Drive, costs about $25 for most northside residents, according to Councilman Daron Lee.

“Majority of those who use (the clinic) are low to moderate income,” Lee said. “A lot of them don’t have cars. ... It’s tough for them to get a cab and go across town and come back.”

Warner Robins and Houston Healthcare officials worked with a Macon clinic operator recently to apply for a federal grant to open a Warner Robins location close to northside residents’ homes. Though the idea was tabled earlier this year due to the uncertainty of federal budget cuts known as sequestration, a recent Washington agreement made the grant more feasible, they said.

First Choice Primary Care is a nonprofit that operates a clinic on Walnut Street in Macon. It accepts anyone with almost any -- or no -- insurance plan.

“Our board of directors has for several years hoped that we had an option to provide services in Houston County because there’s a lot of unmet need for primary care there,” said Katherine McLeod, CEO of First Choice.

But plans had shifted with the Washington environment.

First Choice is funded from a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services grant. At the end of March, when sequestration was set to kick in and automatically cut every federal department’s budget, the Macon clinic operator decided it would not pursue an additional grant for a Houston County location. At the time, it wasn’t certain funding for the current location would remain in tact.

Less than a week after making that decision, Congress passed a continuing resolution that mandated $300 million be given to health clinics. McLeod and her board decided to apply for a $1.3 million expansion grant.

“Under this (resolution), health centers will not have any funding reductions to our base grant,” McLeod said. “It doesn’t undo the sequester, but some of this expansion funding will be used to undo it, essentially.”

Funded in this year’s budget, the two-year grant provides $650,000 each year for a new clinic location in a different community.

“This would probably be the only opportunity for a couple of years to put our name in the pot to try to get one of these grants,” McLeod said, adding it’s not a guarantee.

The grants will be awarded by Sept. 30, the end of the federal fiscal year.

In the meantime, McLeod said she will work with city and hospital officials on plans. No money will be spent, she said, but it’s best to be ready.

As part of the grant application, McLeod and Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Gary Lee haggled with Dr. Greg Gosline of Gosline Chiropractic Clinic to lease his former office at 301 N. Davis Drive. Gosline now operates out of a Carl Vinson Parkway location. McLeod declined to comment on the settled rent.

First Choice would manage and operate the clinic. The RDA’s Lee said the city won’t have anything to do with the clinic; officials are just aiding its arrival. Houston Healthcare would be the go-to hospital for patients who need extended care, McLeod said.

The group projects almost 2,600 patients would be served in the clinic’s first year. Rates are on a sliding scale, depending on coverage and income levels.

“We see patients with Medicare, Medicaid, insurance,” McLeod said. “A lot of our patients move from one category to another. We work to be their medical home.”

Councilman Lee, who represents part of the poorest area of the city with Councilman Mike Davis, said a clinic like First Choice is needed in the area of North Davis Drive.

Even when residents come up with the $50 for a two-way taxi ride to the Georgia health department’s travel clinic on Cohen Walker Drive, Councilman Lee said it just may not be the best use of their money.

“That money goes towards travel instead of going toward prescriptions,” he said, pointing out the area has a high senior citizen rate.

To contact writer Christina M. Wright, call 256-9685.

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