Collaboration secures funding for new clinic on Berger campus

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

CIRCLEVILLE - The medical office building at Berger Health System will soon house a new primary care clinic through a collaboration with the Columbus Neighborhood Health Center (CNHC) and federal funding through the Affordable Care Act.

The facility will open in February 2014 and provide Pickaway County residents with additional access to primary care, dental care and mental health services, according to Tom Horan, CEO of CNHC.

CNHC has received a $691,667 grant through the Health Resources and Services Administration for the project, which is intended to increase and improve healthcare access to underserved populations, Horan said.

The funding is part of $6.8 million granted to Ohio through the Department of Health and Human Resources.

CNHC currently operates eight clinics in the Columbus area, but the new facility located at Berger will be its first outside the Franklin County limits and the first located on a hospital campus.

"The Columbus Neighborhood Health Center will be the operator of the clinic and provider of services," Horan said. "We will be contracting or hiring physicians and nurse practitioners to staff it."

Tim Colburn, president and CEO of Berger Health System, said the new facility is not intended to replace the one recently closed at Walmart, but to compliment the free clinic now operated once a week through the Berger Health Foundation.

The free clinic, held Tuesday evenings on Island Road, can currently only handle 16 to 18 patients per session and has been forced to turn people away due to time restrictions and demand.

The free clinic also is not intended to provide primary care services and makes referrals to other area doctors, when necessary.

"The nurses and physicians at the free clinic can refer patients, and there are primary care physicians who have taken referrals, but there just aren't enough," Colburn said. "This grant will allow us to open with one provider in the first year and two providers in the second year, so it will provide more local care options for Pickaway County residents."

Horan said the clinic will accept patients with insurance, Medicaid and Medicare, as well as those who remain uninsured.

"Even after the Affordable Care Act goes into effect, there will still be uninsured patients in the world," Horan said. "The clinic will see those folks, too."

Colburn said both Berger and CNHC have committed through the grant application to handle 4,500 patient visits in its first year of operation with 10,000 patient visits through the second year.

"Any patient can come to this health center," Colburn said. "It will be the same as a physician's office. Patients who have and don't have insurance, we hope everyone will come to the clinic."

Though not considered an urgent care facility, Colburn said walk-ins will be welcome, and the clinic's location on the hospital campus will allow for immediate transfer of patients in an urgent situation to the emergency room at Berger Hospital.

Horan said an exciting feature of the new clinic will be access to treatment for dental and mental health services as well as medical conditions.

"We've done a lot with dental in Columbus," Horan said. "The number one condition for which people use an emergency room inappropriately is tooth pain or mouth pain because they don't have anywhere else to go."

The CNHC plans to build local relationships to provide dental services, as well as the ability to make referrals to community mental health centers.

While details of the clinic are still being worked out, Horan said the grant funding is in hand and both CNHC and Berger Health System are ready to move forward.

"It will be up and running in February," he said. "It will probably be a three-year program to start, and if it's successful, it will become eligible for five-year funding going forward. We're pretty confident we will be successful, though, if we do it right and set it up right, and that's what we intend to do."