Health Care Authority offers west Blount assistance in developing medical clinic

Wendell Ellis told the West Blount Development Association last Wednesday at Hayden’s town hall that Blount County Health Care Authority is prepared to work with a group representing the community to develop a doctors’ group practice or medical clinic to serve citizens in that part of the county.

There is currently no medical care facility in the county west of Cleveland and Blountsville.

Ellis is chairman of the health care authority. During his presentation, West Blount Development Association president Welton Carter said residents repeatedly identify a grocery store, retail shopping facilities, and a medical care clinic as pressing needs in the area.

Setting the stage

Ellis reviewed the history of the health care authority’s work dating from its establishment in the 1950s as the hospital board to build the original Blount Memorial Hospital under the Hill Burton Act. In 1999, the authority, which by then had been established, built Medical Center Blount, which replaced the old Blount Memorial. The authority now leases the facility to St. Vincent’s Hospital System, which operates it as St. Vincent’s Blount.

The agency built the new hospital along with other related projects under the authority granted by state legislation authorizing its operation – along with similar authorities in counties across the state – “to promote the health, welfare, and safety” of citizens of the county. Other projects include building the structure housing the Blount County Health Department, and recently refurbishing the old hospital as an innovative Family Services Mall.

Lays out vision

Ellis said the health care authority has already had preliminary talks with St. Vincent’s about providing a clinic in the Hayden area that would operate under its auspices. The next step is to get the community’s input as to whether such a clinic is needed, what services it should provide, how big it should be, and where it should be located, he said. He added that the health care authority could provide assistance in a number of ways, including financing, doctor recruitment, and grant applications.

“The health care authority could help offset medical expenses of medical students who would serve three to five years in the clinic in repayment of financial support. It could help finance construction or renovation of a building – up to $200,000 toward the establishment of a facility – say something similar to the Cleveland Clinic. We could help the town of Hayden apply for a grant to finance construction. (State Rep.) Elwyn Thomas seemed to think that prospects for a Community Development Block Grant in this area are good,” Ellis said.

Ellis told The Blount Countian
that the idea for a clinic in the western part of the county had its inception as an item in the Blount County five-year strategic plan developed by the Blount County – Oneonta Chamber of Commerce in 2004 (currently being updated).

Probate Judge and Commission Chairman David Standridge commented that the county could help out by putting the town of Hayden in touch with a grant-writing consultant if the decision were made to pursue that course. “They’ve got a lot of experience in dealing with grants, and they’re worth their price,” he said.

How to ‘crank it up’

“How do we crank this project up?” asked Hayden Mayor Thelma Smith.

“I would suggest you form a standing committee to answer these questions we’ve talked about,” Ellis said. Ellis added that the health care authority’s board member from the area is Charles Wisdom. “I feel sure he would be willing to be a part of the group. So, form your board and get a handle on what people feel is needed and where it’s needed, then go from there,” Ellis said.

Further discussion focussed on two primary requirements for a medical clinic: a highly visible location convenient and accessible to a majority of the population, ideally within the city limits of Hayden; and affiliation with a well-known and reputable health care provider such as St. Vincent’s Hospital System.

Ellis said there are a number of alternative ways financing could be handled: a builder could build the building and lease it back to an operating agency or authority, the town of Hayden could get a grant and build the building, an individual could donate property and build a clinic then lease it back, or the health care authority itself could buy property and build the clinic, then lease it to a group that would operate it.

Any location on Ala 160 near the Hayden schools and within the city limits of Hayden was discussed as a highly favorable target site for a clinic.