When a community health center closed in Salisbury last year, residents in the rural town 45 miles northwest of Columbia wondered how one doctor would be able to serve 1,726 people.
Now, more than a year later, they might finally get some relief.
“Access was getting pretty limited,” Salisbury resident Chris Sturm said. “I’m sure there were some people who went without health care because they couldn’t get an appointment.”
Earlier this month, after meeting with two representatives of the Chariton County Community Foundation, members of Columbia’s Family Health Center executive board approved a resolution to establish a satellite health clinic in Salisbury. If approved by the federal Health Resources and Services Administration, this will be the first subsidiary operation outside Columbia for the federally funded health clinic.
The resolution calls for one full-time nurse practitioner, one part-time doctor and three additional support staff at the Salisbury clinic. Incurring the bulk of the new operation’s expenses, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services would allocate $125,000 each year for three years to the Family Health Center. The funding is part of the department’s Primary Care Resource Initiative for Missouri, known as PRIMO, which seeks to improve health care access in underserved communities.
Joe Pierle, executive director of the Primary Care Association which provides funding to the Family Health Center, said satellite clinics, such as the one proposed for Salisbury, are a growing trend in Missouri.
According to a report released this month by the association, 17 federally qualified health centers in Missouri provided services through 92 delivery sites last year. That’s a 20 percent increase in satellite locations since 2001.
Pierle said the rapid growth is a result of initiatives at the federal and state level.
For instance, he said, President Bush promised to double the number of patients who receive services from community health care clinics. This past year, he said, state legislators increased funding to federally qualified health centers by $5 million.
“Part of the problem is that there just aren’t enough providers,” Pierle said. “That is why this (presidential) initiative is in place to improve access in all states in both urban and rural communities. But most of our expansion these days is in rural Missouri.”
Health centers serve 250,000 Missourians who are uninsured or underinsured, 40 percent of whom live in rural communities, the report stated.
At a series of public meetings, Pierle said more than 100 Salisbury residents showed up to voice concern about the lack of health care in their area.
Pierle said Salisbury had two options when deciding how to provide care in its community. It could either establish its own self-sustaining clinic or look for help from an existing clinic nearby.
Gloria Crull, executive director of the Family Health Center, said that because of the competitive funding process for new clinics, it was easiest for Salisbury to feed off the Columbia operation.
Crull said services in the greater Boone County region won’t be affected. An accounting firm completed a feasibility study and determined no resources would be diverted from the main operation in Columbia, she said.
“We already have patients who are traveling from Salisbury, so what we may see is that by expanding to that site, we may be serving people in that area who we would have otherwise been serving in Columbia.”
Crull also said the center is on sound financial ground after a financial crisis last year that forced it to eliminate some staff and services.
“However, health centers are always struggling regardless of who you are because it’s always a changing playing field,” she said.
Crull said the center might also open more satellite clinics.
“I think we’ll be expected to respond to needs in other communities within our service area in the future,” she said. “That’s a part of being a federally qualified health center.”
The Salisbury clinic still is subject to federal approval, which will take about 60 days once a formal application is approved.