Originally created 08/01/98

New area clinic planned



Patricia Johnson puts her hands together as if in prayer and feels the need for a new community health clinic in her south Augusta neighborhood.

"I do this every morning," she said, sitting on a small porch area at the back of her carport off Wheeless Road. The hands push against each other, bending first one back slowly, then the other, wagging back and forth. "If I don't do it, it gets stiff."

The plague of arthritis in her hands and sometimes her feet is made worse by the fact that her assigned doctor is miles away in west Augusta, and like many doctors is too busy to take walk-in patients.

"It would be an advantage when this comes up (because) it wouldn't be 10 days before they could get to me, and I could at least go there and get something for relief," she said.

Sometime in November, she will get her wish.

The Partnership for Community Health and University Hospital are building their second community clinic, this time in south Augusta on the grounds of Belle Terrace Presbyterian Church. University's Board of Trustees last week approved $200,000 for the clinic building. It will cost between $155,000-$200,000 a year to operate, said Gwendolyn Durnell, executive director of the partnership.

The clinic will open when the building is finished, which should be in November, Ms. Durnell said. University expects to recoup some of the expense through fewer emergency room visits, fewer demands for specialty care, and fewer admissions due to preventive care, Ms. Durnell said. The clinic is expected to serve about 3,000 people its first year.

Like the first one off Linden Street at Beulah Grove Resource Center, operated as part of a partnership with Beulah Grove Baptist Church, the clinic will provide primary care through a nurse practitioner and a supervising physician, as well as mental health services. That will be particularly important in the area, defined as the 30906 zip code, because 12 percent of the admissions to Georgia Regional Hospital come from the area, Ms. Durnell said.

People who come out of Georgia Regional may not have anywhere to go and apparently stick close to the hospital, creating a need for follow-up services that may not be available elsewhere, Ms. Durnell said.

The clinic also is planning programs for the elderly that would provide preventive services, adult day care, some transportation and nutritional services. Getting good nutrition is a problem with the elderly for a number of reasons, Ms. Durnell said.

"You need a lot of nutrients when you're elderly and some elderly are not able to fix their own meals," she said.

Those services are particularly important in the area, where people 65 and older make up 9 percent of the population and in some places as much as 16 percent. As the community has aged, the poverty level has increased from 18.7 percent in 1990 to nearly 25 percent five years later. And that brings on its own problems beyond the loss of income, said the Rev. Steve Patteson, pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church, which is part of the coalition working to establish the clinic and its community programs.

"If you're elderly, say you want a flu shot, you can get one for free if you go (downtown) to the clinic," the Rev. Patteson. "How do you get there?"

Unlike the first clinic, the Center for Community Health, the new clinic will have its own executive director, William Nauman, who will seek grants and outside funding to run the clinic. And in addition to health needs, the clinic will work with community groups to try and slow the loss of businesses in the area, work on economic development, and issues such as affordable housing, Ms. Durnell said.

"We're concerned with idea of dealing with families from a holistic standpoint, dealing with individuals from a holistic standpoint," said the Rev. James Williams Jr., associate minister of Broadway Baptist Church, another of the churches working on the project.

The numbers show the need in the community, but the numbers can be changed, the Rev. Patteson said.

"This does show there is a great good to be done," he said.