Saundra Kelley would have no health care if not for the Johnson City Downtown Clinic, she said.
She works. In fact, Kelley said she has several jobs, including working part-time for Johnson City, writing and storytelling. None of those provide health insurance, though. And she has been denied that benefit privately because of chronic conditions, she told a crowd gathered Friday morning for the groundbreaking of the new East Tennessee State University College of Nursing Community Health Center.
“They don’t want me. But these people do,” Kelley said, referring to the staff at the Johnson City Downtown Clinic.
Kelley and others were gathered Friday to celebrate what was a years-long process to get enough money to fund the creation of a larger, more state-of-the-art facility to replace the current Downtown Clinic, 207 E. Myrtle Ave.
The new 28,000-square-foot Community Health Center with 21,000 square feet of clinic space will be located across from Johnson City Medical Center on North State of Franklin Road and will double the space available to see patients.
That room is needed because the clinic has seen a large increase in patients in the past few years, mainly due to the poor economy, said Nursing Dean Wendy Nehring. As people lose their jobs, they also loose their health insurance. But their health problems do not go away.
Kelley, who moved here from Florida some years ago, was referred to the clinic. She had been to community health clinics in the past and was unsure what she would find there.
“And what I found was a big community of loving people,” she said. “I found professional health care. People who could probably have much bigger careers someplace else, but they have chosen to follow their heart and to serve people like me and many others who would have no health care without this clinic.”
The new clinic will have 24 exam rooms and be built for eight medical providers. Three rooms will also be available for minor procedures. The new clinic will bring together many of the programs of study in ETSU’s health sciences, including physical therapy, radiography, nursing, dental hygiene, nutrition, audiology, sociology, psychology and pharmacy.
A $6.8 million grant to build the clinic was provided by the United States Health Resources and Services Administration. ETSU’s colleges of nursing and rehabilitative health sciences collaborated on the grant, which was awarded this past fall. Bill Rasnick, ETSU associate vice president of facilities, said Merit Construction out of Nashville won the bid to construct the building at about $4 million. The remainder of the grant goes to purchase equipment and possibly enhance the building.
The design for the new clinic calls for the ability to lock up all but one-third of the building so that a health practitioner can see patients after hours and on weekends.
ETSU’s College of Nursing has managed the Downtown Clinic since it was established in the early 1990s as a place for the local homeless population to get basic medical treatment. Over the years, the mission of the clinic has expanded to serve those with too little or no insurance. In recent years the number of patients seen at the clinic has significantly increased.
“We’ve seen over 3,000 patients in the last year,” Nehring said. “And I hope that that can grow. We certainly will have the ability to have more people come.”
The new clinic is scheduled to be completed by October 2012.