Health center debuts today

The new Family Health Center offers more space and resources
to Missourians.
Thursday, July 1, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 9:37 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

For 12 years, the Family Health Center — tight on budget and tight on space — has provided care to medically underserved Missourians. The walls of the old center’s waiting room were lined with handmade posters advocating proper health management. Steel chairs filled the small space, leaving little room for people or wheelchairs to maneuver. A partitioned room in the corner served as a children’s play area with mats on the floor and toys stacked high.

But today, the Family Health Center is trading spaces. It will welcome patients to its new location at Worley Street and West Boulevard, a building that formerly housed the Nowell’s grocery store and now houses both the Family Health Center and the Columbia/Boone County Health Department.

The site was chosen for its accessibility to its major client base. “It helps to have a central location with easy access and easy transportation,” said Phil Peters, president of the Family Health Center Board of Directors.

The new space boasts nearly double the square footage of the previous one, with almost 18,400 square feet. It will include 30 exam rooms — 13 more than the old location — two treatment rooms and new offices for mental health services.

September grand openings are planned for both the health department, which moved into the new building June 1, and for the Family Health Center.

Both the Family Health Center and the health department were looking for new facilities at the time the former store became available. The county bought the Family Health Center side of the building exclusively, while the city and county share ownership of the health department space. The Family Health Center signed a 15-year lease with the county, and its rent payments will be used to help cover the $1.6 million cost of renovating the building.

The Family Health Center is using recent federal grants, donations from civic and service organizations and financial assistance from Boone Hospital Foundation to make the payments.

On June 18, U.S. Sen. Jim Talent presented the Family Health Center with a federal grant worth $246,040. The Boone Hospital Foundation gave the center another $500,000, and the Northwest Rotary Club donated $9,000 worth of waiting room furniture.

“We purchased the furniture with money that we have set aside for projects such as this. Greg Wolff who owns Marathon Office Supply served as a force multiplier and got us more bang for our buck,” said Joel Jeffries, member of the Rotary Club of Columbia-Northwest Board of Directors. “We made the donation because the Family Health Center ensures health care to the uninsured and underinsured population of Missouri that is invisible to others.”

Any future money awarded will go toward paying for the renovations and will offset the center’s lease payments to the county, Peters said.

The Family Health Center relied on increased productivity to get back on its feet after a downsizing in January 2003, said Gloria Crull, executive director of the Family Health Center. They had lost local funding and didn’t have the federal money to subsidize the losses.

The federal government was aware the health center was in trouble and sent consultants to develop a financial recovery plan, which forced center administrators to reduce staff by 50 percent and eliminate its mental health and enabling services.

“Our goal was to save the organization. We had to right-size and increase productivity,” Crull said. “Now we have turned the corner, and we have lower debts and accounts payable.”

The center has since submitted applications for two more federal grants to cover expansion of medical and dental services.

Family Health Center

The Family Health Center provides primary care to medically underserved Missourians. This care includes medical, mental health, dental health and enabling services. Enabling services are medical social work, patient education and outreach.

“We always focus on prevention, but if the patient is already ill, we decrease the chance for complications by managing it,” Crull said.

There are 17 community health centers in Missouri and 44 sites of service, all dedicated to helping the medically underserved.

“Community health centers start because the community is concerned about a lack of care in that area,” Crull said. “It’s a great community investment. It maintains employment and allows children to participate more successfully at school.”

Medically underserved patients have low income, no insurance or no local health-care provider.

About 57 percent of the center’s patients are covered by Medicaid, 6 percent by Medicare and 3 percent by commercial insurance; 35 percent have no insurance.

For uninsured patients, payment at the center operates on a sliding discount fee scale. They receive a discount pegged to the federal poverty level, which is determined by the patient’s income and number of people in the household.

Columbia/Boone County Health Department

While the Family Health Center focuses on primary care and individual health, the Columbia/Boone County Health Department works to manage population-based health care.

Many people approach the public health department with the misconception that it provides low-income health care. Having the two facilities share the new space should solve that problem, said health department Director Stephanie Browning.

“Public health is not about the individual,” Browning said. “It’s about looking at the community, its health risks and solutions to these risks.”

The health department’s management of public health is broken into six divisions.

Administration registers and certifies birth and death certificates and performs community health assessments.

The Division of Environmental Health inspects food facilities and day-care centers, conducts on-site sewage inspections and performs water testing and nuisance regulation.

The other divisions include animal control, nursing, social services and the Women, Infants and Children program (WIC).

The health department formerly occupied 12,000 square feet of the Howard Building at Broadway and Sixth Street. The new site is less crowded, with 30,000 square feet, and provides more privacy for patients, Browning said.

The health department receives 70 percent of its funding from local sources and 30 percent from federal grants. In the 2004 fiscal year, it operated on a $4.7 million budget.

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