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Community Health Center opens

Rex Barber • Oct 11, 2012 at 9:46 PM

An increasing patient load and no space to expand led to the construction of East Tennessee State University’s $6.8 million Johnson City Community Health Center to replace its popular clinic for uninsured or underinsured patients located downtown.

The new health center was dedicated Thursday morning. The first patients will be seen today.

Wendy Nehring, dean of the ETSU College of Nursing, adapted an old African proverb to say it takes a village to care for a community when asked about the new clinic.

“And today is testimony to this village of people who have meant so much to this clinic,” she said. “And we’re here today because of all the hard work of staff and faculty, and now to join with the College of Rehabilitative and Health Sciences with their clinics we truly can offer one-stop shopping to this community and they can come and get their medical care here. We have all the colleges in the health sciences at ETSU that are involved in this project and it’s just a glorious day for us to be able to offer health care like this to this community.”

The Johnson City Downtown Clinic opened in the basement of the Salvation Army in 1990. The clinic was and its replacement continues to be operated by the College of Nursing. The college also has other clinics across the region.

Tens of thousands of patients have since been treated at the Downtown Clinic at its three previous locations, most recently at 207 E. Myrtle Ave. This new clinic is located at 2151 Century Lane, behind Woodridge Hospital off North State of Franklin Road.

Nehring said the new location with the extra space had been needed for years as more and more patients began utilizing the Downtown Clinic for medical services.

“This is our fourth location and I’m sure (in not) too long we’ll hear people say that we’ve run out of room here but, we hope that we see that, but we’ve got the doors open now and more room and we hope to see more people,” Nehring said.

Speakers at the dedication ceremony Thursday morning said the clinic will be a model for how to operate a clinic by including numerous services beyond that of a primary care provider.

According to ETSU, the JCCHC is classified as a Community Health Center, and there are 1,200 such CHCs spread across the 50 U.S. states. But there are few that can match the scope of services available at the JCCHC, which has received the prestigious classification of being a Federally Qualified Health Center.

“We certainly want inter-professional care and this clinic represents the workings of so many different disciplines that will be able to pull together to provide the care that people need,” Nehring said. “And when they need referrals to other groups they’ll be right in the same building and we’ll be able to have them get an X-ray or see a therapist or do that in a very timely way and not have to wait months or years before they can get to be seen by someone.”

ETSU President Brian Noland several years ago people began asking questions about a clinic that brought together medicine, pharmacy, audiology and speech language pathology, nutrition and dental hygiene. He said people need to keep asking those kinds of questions to continue advancing the university and the region.

“Those ‘what if’ questions have defined who we are as an institution,” he said. “I encourage you to continue to ask those ‘what if ‘ questions as we move through the process of the for the Committee for 125.”

The Committee for 125 was recently appointed to develop a set of goals for ETSU to achieve by the 125th anniversary of the school.

The new 28,000-square-foot Community Health Center will have 21,000 square feet of clinic space. The new clinic will have 24 exam rooms and be built for eight medical providers. Three rooms also will be available for minor procedures.

The $6.8 million grant to build the clinic was provided by the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration. ETSU’s colleges of nursing and rehabilitative health sciences collaborated on the grant.

Originally founded to serve the homeless population, the JCDC evolved to a clinic that primarily served the uninsured, the underinsured and migrant farm workers. It has been evolving ever since, and while the JCCHC still serves as a health care safety net for the region, it also sees patients of all ages who have health insurance, including Medicare and TennCare.

The College of Nursing will continue to serve the homeless population at the Johnson City Day Center, 202 W. Fairview Ave. It also collaborates with Johnson City Public Housing to operate Partners for Health, a satellite clinic of the JCCHC in the Keystone Community.

Hours at the JCCHC are Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and 8 a.m. to noon Saturdays. Appointments are encouraged but walk-in visits are welcome. To schedule an appointment, call 926-2500.

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