New health center gives back to community

Published 12:08 am Sunday, July 22, 2007

On July 16, a new source of comprehensive health and social services sprung-up on Homochitto Street. It’s the Natchez branch of the Jefferson Comprehensive Health Center, a local, non-profit health care provider for low income persons living in Adams County.

The comprehensive health center’s main goal is to provide citizens of Natchez and Adams County with a wide range of health programs, including primary health care, pharmacy services, nutrition and weight management counseling and control, health education regarding disease prevention and health promotion (e.g. HIV/AIDS prevention), prenatal care, family planning services, among others.

These services (plus patient referrals to specialists) will be provided by a team of board certified physicians, nurse practitioners, nurses, social workers and other health care providers. They meet all of the highest medical standards and provide these services in a very cost-effective manner to all citizens seeking professional medical attention. No one will be denied care regardless of their financial status. The CHC will take all Medicare and Medicaid eligible patients and those with private insurance plans will be welcomed as well. Fees for services provided by CHC staff are based on the patient’s ability to pay. Fees are charged on a sliding scale according to his or her source of income.

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The national CHC program was created by Congress in the 1970s to meet the health care needs of the uninsured, the indigent and medically fragile persons. The more than 3,600 health centers (22 in Mississippi) constitute an integral part of America’s national health care delivery system. Today, these centers are helping local governments meet the growing public health needs of their citizens; they collaborate with other providers in addressing costly and devastating health problems like diabetes, depression, HIV/AIDS, asthma, drug and alcohol addiction, etc.

CHCs do make a difference in the health status of communities. These centers are locally governed by patients and community leaders. They play a major role in deciding how and what services will be provided. Several studies have found that communities with CHCs have infant mortality rates between 10 and 40 percent lower than communities without CHCs.

The new Natchez CHC will, no doubt, collaborate with: the two major health care facilities in Adams County, local health care providers, city and county governments, the Adams County Public Health Department and relevant community-based organizations (e.g., United Way) to provide improved health outcomes and better quality of life in Adams County.

When asked why there is a need for a CHC in Natchez, Shirley Ellis, executive director of the neighboring Jefferson Comprehensive Health Center, said, “Last year, we served almost 8,000 patients and 25 percent came from Adams County. My board of directors thought it appropriate to extend our services in Adams County to improve access for those persons in need of health care there.”

With the leadership of Sen. Thad Cochran, funds were appropriated by Congress to extend the CHC network in Mississippi. Funds were made available, through the Mississippi Primary Health Care Association (MPHCA represents the Mississippi CHCs in Jackson) to support capital projects to either expand current CHCs or build them in counties with no CHC. Ellis and her board were successful in landing a grant in the latter category.

No county or city funds were used in building (and equipping) the new facility on Homochitto Street. Nor will city and county monies be used in running the CHC. It will be self-supporting.

We invite all interested citizens to attend the “ribbon-cutting” ceremony in the near future. Watch this space or “Tracings” for details.

In closing, the national network of CHCs, in general and the Mississippi CHC, in particular, are primary examples of American programs that place a high premium on individual empowerment and responsibility. Through their services geared at preventing disease, promoting health and cutting health care cost, the CHCs contribute to lower hospitalization and emergency room visits and better health status for many.

Mike Gemmell is a Natchez resident and former executive director of the Association of Schools of Public Health, Washington, D.C.