One of the region’s largest health care providers announced that one of its community outreach centers will close at the end of this month.
On Monday, a representative for Mountain States Health Alliance confirmed that the Health Resources Center located inside The Mall at Johnson City will leave upon the expiration of its lease on June 30.
The HRC, located near the Belk Women’s Store in the mall, provides the public with services — such as blood pressure checks and health screening — and information — like nutrition counseling and health coaching — at no cost. Additionally, the HRC Annex, located between the Belk Women’s Store and the Belk Home Store, serves as a meeting point for support groups and a gathering place for health seminars.
The HRC is one of two centers in the Tri-Cities, with the other located inside the Kingsport Town Center. The Kingsport location will remain open.
According to MSHA Communications Manager Teresa Hicks, the cost of operating the facility inside the mall was the motivating factor behind the HRC’s closing.
“Leasing space that would otherwise be occupied by a retail store is not the most cost-efficient way of providing the free services that the HRC offers,” Hicks said, via email communication.
As far as finding a new venue to offer those free services, however, nothing definite has been decided. Hicks said plans were in the works to de-centralize the HRC and use existing MSHA facilities to serve as hubs to disseminate information and provide services.
“I would say we’re relocating them into the community,” Hicks said. “The Johnson City Health Resources Center is evaluating options for moving its services to a hospital-based model that would provide free health education classes and screenings out in the community, rather than at one location centralized in Johnson City. Classes after (June 30) will take place at the new community locations, to be announced in the coming weeks.
Hicks said she was not aware, however, of any specific plans-of-action, or when a decision on where and when those classes and screenings would be offered.
“I don’t know if they have put a deadline on it,” she said. “The plan is under development.”
As for the HRC staff, Hicks said they would be placed in MSHA’s Career Resource Center, where they will continue to receive their salaries and benefits. The Career Resource Center provides displaced employees with 90 days to either await placement within the MSHA system or train for another position. Hicks added, however, she expected the HRC employees — who she said were “mostly” registered nurses — would be assigned to serve at their former capacities once the decision had been reached on where to operate community resource centers.
“Those team members are going to be needed for their new locations once that’s identified,” Hicks said.
While the staff waits to see what location, or locations, are identified, so, too, will the HRC’s patrons. Darlene Jessee oversees a support group for multiple myeloma, a cancer of the blood. When her husband, Harvey, was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2007, Jessee said, the two started attending a support group at the HRC Annex in the mall, during which time they received medical advice. Since that time, Jessee has assumed responsibility in organizing the group, but was informed Saturday when she tried to schedule the next meeting that the annex would no longer be available.
“July will be the first time in seven years that we have not met,” Jessee said. “It would have been nice to have notice.”
Though Jessee said she was confident her group would be able to find another venue — whether inside the MSHA network or not — she added she was disappointed for everyone in the community who frequented the HRC at the mall.
“I’m sure we’ll find a place; I’m not real worried about that,” she said. “We’ve kind of been spoiled for the last seven years. But, for all of the community, I think it’s a big loss.”
While Jessee regretted MSHA’s decision, others were angry about it. David Williams, who attends Jessee’s meetings with his wife, Sandra — who was diagnosed with multiple myeloma — said MSHA should have granted the HRC priority because of the service it provided.
“I don’t understand their reasoning,” he said. “For the last seven years, (MSHA) has provided these support groups for cancer patients who have questions and fears. They’ve had wonderful people to help guide them or give information ... and doctors who are experts in the field call in.
“I think it’s heartless.”
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