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Monday, August 23,2010

Health-care firm offers choices for area’s low-income residents

By Alissa Paolella
In the first celebration of National Health Center Week since the enactment of the landmark federal health-care reform legislation earlier this year, Family Healthcare Inc. offered an open house and tours of its The Plains facility on Aug. 11.

With visits from area politicians, including state Rep. Debbie Phillips, D-Athens, and CEO Mark Bridenbaugh, the event aimed to showcase the benefits of the health center in The Plains and the 47 other health centers in the state, including three mobile units.

Community health centers are the family doctor to more than 20 million people at 8,000 sites nationwide, according to a press release from Family Healthcare Inc. that describes such centers as "one of the bright spots in America's health-care system."

"Health centers have also been in the public spotlight because now more than ever the uninsured and casualties of the economic recession are seeking their services," the release said.

The number of community health centers in Ohio has continued to grow this decade. Under President George W. Bush, Ohio added 12 health centers, from 23 in 2002 to 35 in 2008, and the Obama administration has supported doubling the number of health centers across the country by 2015, according to Heather Porter of the Ohio Association of Community Health Centers.

"Residents are lucky to have this resource in the county," she said.

Tiffany Holt, one of the staff members who greeted Athens County residents during the open house, stressed that the center's sliding fee scale does not only apply to uninsured patients.

She said Family Healthcare Inc., which is based in Chillicothe, works with local agencies, such as Tri-County Mental Health Services and Health Recovery Services, which offer alcohol and substance-abuse treatment.

It also partners with Kroger Co. through the 340B program, Holt said, which provides discounted medications to low-income patients.

"We do a lot of patient-assistance programs," Holt said. "We try to use (the Kroger program) as much as possible."

The facility currently houses the county's Women, Infant and Children (WIC) program, as well as separate wings for pediatric and adult care. Current construction is making space for a counselor to come into the facility once per week, Holt said.

Another dental clinic also is in the works, but Athens County residents currently can use the company's dental clinic in McArthur.

Three expansions have taken place in the last few years, Bridenbaugh said, which helped keep up with the increased demand for services.

"Build and they will come," he said. "The Logan office was the same way. In no time, you're out of space again."

Bridenbaugh noted the importance of preventative health care for patients of all ages.

"When people have a place to go for regular care, they use it and stay healthy," he said in the press release. "Our patients do not only get excellent care, but they are treated as individuals, with dignity and respect. This is what health care should be, and what we celebrate during National Health Center Week."

Bridenbaugh said the number of patients in Family Healthcare Inc.'s six-county area has risen steadily over the past few years.

He said with clinics in Chillicothe, Logan, McArthur, New Lexington, The Plains and Middleport, Family Healthcare Inc. is seeing about 250 new patients per month and about 3,000 new patients per year.

Family Healthcare delivers services to about 25,000 individuals across the six-county area, Bridenbaugh said. About 60 percent are covered by Medicaid, 20 percent are uninsured, and about 25 percent have private insurance.

"We stress that we're more of a medical home, so you can come to us regardless," Bridenbaugh said. "If you lose your job, you don't have to go to another physician's office... For the sliding fee, you don't have to be uninsured. You can have insurance, and the sliding fee can apply to your co-pays or deductibles anything that's the patient's responsibility."

Family Healthcare Inc. received $316,000 under the federal stimulus act, he said.

"As part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, there was an increase in demand for services that came to all health centers," Bridenbaugh said.

Dr. Robert Gottfried, a family practice physician who has been with Family Healthcare Inc. for about four years, said it's rewarding to be able to help people who fall through the cracks of the health-care system.

"It's not absolutely unique to Appalachia but it's a great, wonderful service that we have here because there are so many people that fall below the poverty line that wouldn't be able to get any medical care otherwise," he said. "I practiced in a different practice here in Athens County before I came here, and it was very frustrating having to turn people away. We don't have to turn people away."

This year's theme for National Health Center Week is "Celebrating America's Health Centers: Turning the Vision into Reality" and highlights community health centers' 45-year record of providing high-quality, cost-effective health care, as well as the future of health care for the Athens County community and across the nation.

Under health-care reform, according to the news release, community health centers are expected to double the number of patients to 40 million in five years, saving the U.S. health care system as much as $300 billion over the next 10 years. The savings result from treating people before they get sick and require costlier care at a hospital, the press release said.

According to a release from the National Association of Community Health Centers, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which became law March 23, has launched a primary care revolution. The release said community health centers are well positioned to transform this vision into reality by expanding access to high-quality, affordable primary and preventative care to millions; by providing needed health-care professionals; and by stimulating economic activity in some of the nation's most economically hard-pressed communities.

Health centers are expected to generate $54 billion in total economic activity in 2015 and create 284,000 new full-time equivalent jobs in their local communities, the release said.


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