WARNER ROBINS -- A health clinic on the citys north side is expected to open in January, officials said at a Monday news conference announcing a $1.13 million federal grant that will fund the operation for two years.
A lot of people who have never had a doctor, now they will have one, said Katherine McLeod, CEO of First Choice Primary Care. And well be able to offer that to people, whether they have Medicaid or private insurance or no insurance.
The health clinic will be the second public health clinic in Warner Robins. and will be placed on the north side of the city, where officials say a large portion of the population needs the services. Officials said they hope the clinic will help reduce the number of non-emergency visits to Houston Healthcares emergency room.
This is going to be a non-emergency clinic, said Mayor Chuck Shaheen. Patients that cant get to other health clinics will now be able to come to this one. Hopefully, this will provide better health care for the citizens of Warner Robins.
First Choice, which operates a clinic in Macon, will receive $480,000 for its first fiscal year and another $650,000 for the second year through a New Access Grant. First Choice will then have to reapply for a three-year refunding grant that will review the operation.
First Choice was one of 400 operators to apply for the grant nationwide. Thirty-two grants were awarded, four of which are in Georgia.
The location was originally planned to be at 301 N. Davis Drive, but Shaheen and McLeod said other locations are being explored. In its first year, McLeod said the clinic is expected to serve 2,000 people.
As many as 10 employees will eventually be hired to operate the clinic, McLeod said. The team will include a doctor, a nurse practitioner and educators to teach patients about their health and the Affordable Care Act.
We spend a lot of time working with chronic diseases, trying to help them manage those chronic diseases, trying to get them healthy and keep them out of the hospital, McLeod said.
Sonny Watson, chairman of the Houston Healthcare System board of trustees, said more than 72,000 people visited the emergency room in Warner Robins over the last year, and another 15,000 visited the emergency room in Perry.
The only other public health clinic in Warner Robins is on the southern end of town on Cohen Walker Drive. Houston Medical Center is closer to the north side on Watson Boulevard.
McLeod said the clinic aims to see patients within 30 minutes, while Watson said the average wait time for a non-emergency visit at the ER is an hour and a half.
We hope (the clinic) will take some of the load off of (the hospitals) costs, said Watson.
The process for the clinic began last year, when Macon-based First Choice Primary Care approached Houston Healthcare. The system redirected McLeod to the city, and the project was turned over to the Redevelopment Agency.
But national sequestration woes stalled the project early in the year when across-the-board cuts went into effect.
Then, Congress agreed to expand -- instead of reduce -- funding for health clinics. McLeod and Warner Robins officials spent the Easter weekend scrambling to complete the application for a New Access Grant.
Its been a roller coaster ride, McLeod said. A lot of this, the federal budget picture, you never know when theres going to be money.
To contact writer Christina M. Wright, call 256-9685.