Low-cost health clinics open doors
by Anna Oakes
Local residents now have a new health care option with the opening of two low-cost clinics Tuesday.
High Country Community Health began seeing patients in Watauga and Avery counties this week -- seven months after the organization learned it would receive funding as a federally qualified health center.
The clinics are located at the Watauga and Avery county health department locations and are open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Patients without health insurance will pay on a sliding scale basis, and the clinic also accepts private insurance, Medicaid and Medicare.
"We are incredibly excited," said Bryan Belcher, director of community relations and fund development for HCCH. "We feel like we have the potential to really transform the landscape for the uninsured in this community."
Primary medical care is available at both the Watauga and Avery locations, and currently adult dental services are only offered in Watauga.
The clinic also offers case management and language translation services, as HCCH also receives funding as a migrant health center. HCCH will assume the field outreach services and other programs formerly conducted by the Farmworker Health Program of the Appalachian Regional Healthcare System.
In addition to federal funding streams, the clinic is able to keep costs low because it receives higher insurance reimbursement rates than private practices and because the federal government covers the malpractice insurance, HCCH CEO Alice Salthouse told Watauga Democrat in September 2012.
HCCH currently has two full-time medical providers -- both are bilingual -- and is sharing some staff with the health departments. Belcher said the organization does not need additional staff at this time.
"We really expect to grow quickly. At that time we'll add on," he said.
HCCH began taking appointments last week, but a lot of people don't know about the clinics yet, Belcher noted.
"Now's a great time to call (for an appointment)," he said. "We can meet that need really quickly right now."
Eventually, HCCH will offer evening hours at least one day of the week.
Half of HCCH's board of directors members are consumers, Belcher noted.
"Literally, our customers govern and operate us," he said.
HCCH will seek additional funding from grants and community support. The organization recently received its first donation -- a $50 check -- from a couple of seasonal residents who read about the clinic's efforts. HCCH is a nonprofit organization, so all donations to the organization are tax-deductible.
"Community funds are going to be a very important piece of supporting us," Belcher said. Some fundraising events, such as a 5K run, could be organized for the summer.
The location at the Avery County Health Department is not a permanent one, and soon HCCH will be looking for a new space in Avery.
"We are actively seeking grant funding (for a permanent space in Avery)," said Belcher.
To make an appointment for HCCH's Watauga clinic, call (828) 264-6635. For more information, visit http://www.highcountrycommunityhealth.com or search for the organization's page on Facebook.