Jefferson health clinic wants to make move to Natchez

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 17, 2003

It’s become commonplace, said Tracy Collins of the Jefferson County Comprehensive Health Center in Fayette, to see patients from Adams County walk in the door for treatment.

Despite the distance, the working poor and those who have no insurance due to layoffs come to the clinic for low-cost doctor and dentist visits, as well as vouchers for needed medications.

And the Natchez area has lost about a dozen physicians in two years, according to one Natchez Regional Medical Center official’s count. Although a few of the doctors have since been replaced, Collins maintained that’s yet another reason people have chosen to make the trip to Fayette.

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&uot;We see (up to) 180 to 200 people a day, and a lot of them are from Adams and Franklin counties, not just Jefferson,&uot; said Collins, although an average of Adams patients seen per day was not available as of press time. &uot;And we see people regardless of ability to pay.&uot;

But he’s hoping they won’t have to make the trip much longer. That’s because the center, one of dozens of community health centers across the state, is now seeking a facility in Natchez to house a satellite clinic.

There’s one catch: The center needs a facility of about 2,000 square feet, but it cannot afford to pay rent &045; at least, not until the clinic gets on its feet, and probably not for several months. It can afford to make some renovations to whatever space is donated.

If the center can find the space, &uot;we could be in Natchez as soon as January or February,&uot; Collins said.

For one thing, since the clinic would simply be a satellite of an existing facility, it would not need to go through Mississippi’s sometimes lengthy certificate of need process.

Getting such a clinic open could actually help with the area’s economic woes, Collins told Natchez aldermen last week in a plea for help in finding a Natchez facility.

That’s because people who have adequate health care for their children can show up for work more reliably, and an available workforce is a key to bringing in

industry, Collins said.

&uot;Plus, we’ll be employing doctors, office workers and a nurse practitioner ourselves,&uot; he said.

The clinic would also work with existing health care facilities &045; for example, referring patients to local hospitals for further care.

In addition, having a low-cost clinic would prevent many people from going to hospital emergency rooms for routine health care needs which, in turn, would help hospitals financially.

&uot;That’s because, when people go to the ER and can’t pay, they (the hospitals) incur bad debt,&uot; Collins said.

Although city officials have said they do not know of a city-owned building that could readily be used for such a purpose, they have also pledged to work with Collins to help find such a place.

&uot;That’s something,&uot; said Alderwoman Sue Steadman, chairwoman of the board’s Public Properties Committee, &uot;that we’ll put our heads together on.&uot;

The Jefferson County clinic isn’t the only provider the Miss-Lou seeking to establish a comprehensive center to take care of the full range of health care needs of low-income people in one location.

Riverland Medical Center recently received a $77,000 state grant that could help it land a federally qualified health care.

An FQHC is a freestanding health clinic that provides a full range of preventive and primary care services for those who otherwise couldn’t afford health care, according to information from the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals.

Those usually include well-child services, acute care, perinatal care, family planning, laboratory and X-ray services, emergency medicine, dentistry and pharmaceutical services. Such clinics sometimes have social workers or mental health professionals as well.

Preliminary figures also show such a clinic could employ up to eight people, including one or two new doctors, and have an economic impact of $300,000 to $500,000.

Riverland Administrator Vernon Stevens has said he is also discussing with an FQHC in Sicily Island the possibility of partnering to place such a clinic in Ferriday.