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PrimaryCare Void Draws Memphis Nonprofit Provider to Raleigh

By Kevin McKenzie of The Commercial Appeal

Posted: Feb. 03, 2016 
                                  

Abdominal pain on Wednesday drew Verlene Smith to the new Christ Community Health Services clinic in a shopping center across Austin Peay from the struggling Raleigh Springs Mall.

As a 34-year-old resident of the Raleigh-Frayser area, Smith said she hasn't had a primary care doctor.

"I will be having one," Smith said, at Christ Community's new Raleigh Health Center.

Following the same mantra that businesses do, "location, location, location" helped guide Christ Community's decision to open its newest health center in Raleigh, said Lance Luttrell, chief operating officer.

"For us, location is just as important, but it's not because it's the popular place to go," Luttrell said. "It's really because there is nobody else there. When we looked at the northeast corner of Memphis, there really was no other significant primary care in that area."

One important sign of the need is that the emergency room of Methodist North Hospital, about 1 1/2 miles from the new clinic, has logged more visits than any other in Memphis in at least one recent year.

ZIP code-level data, ZIP code 38128 in this case, helps guide the location decision, Luttrell said.

The data is provided through the federal Health Resources & Services Administration, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which helps fund federally qualified health centers such as Christ Community. Another area nonprofit primary care provider, the Memphis Health Center, also receives funding as a federally qualified health center.

Christ Community's Raleigh Health Center, with 14 examination rooms, will start up a dental clinic in July, Luttrell said.

"We looked at it and there's like two dentists in the whole area and that region has about 100,000 people," he said.

Outfitting and equipping the 16,000-square-foot former retail location at 3481 Austin Peay cost about $2.5 million, an expense Christ Community is working to help meet through fundraising, Luttrell said.

A new annual $650,000 "access point" grant from HRSA will help cover costs of treating uninsured patients, providing the operating support to open the new center, he said.

Christ Community closed one location last July, at 1211 Union where its family medicine residency program was housed until it was transferred to another faith-based health care provider, Resurrection Health. That closed clinic, in the Medical District area, was not in an underserved area and didn't receive the federal subsidy like the Raleigh clinic, Luttrell said.

Data showed that a large number of Raleigh residents have been drawn to Christ Community's Broad Avenue Health Center, he said, although its Frayser Health Center is available at 969 Frayser Boulevard.

With an annual revenue of about $25 million, Christ Community operates seven medical clinic locations, three of which include dental clinics, and one stand-alone dental clinic. The organization has a staff of about 300, including about 50 doctors, nurse practitioners and physician assistants.

On Wednesday, Natalie Birch, a May graduate of Christian Brothers University's physician assistant program, prepared to track down the cause of Smith's pain at the Raleigh clinic.

"A lot of people don't have primary care providers here," Birch said. "I see a lot of people who really need it."

Memphis U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen and Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell are scheduled to attend a ribbon-cutting at the Raleigh health center at 10 a.m. Tuesday. Christ Community's Lance Luttrell said he's not related to the mayor.

Posted by Cris Stovall at 11:58 AM

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