published Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

Officials try to calm fears over Alton Park health clinic move


by Emily Bregel

Leaders of the Southside and Dodson Avenue Community Health Centers on Monday night assured Alton Park residents there are no immediate plans to close Ohls Avenue to make room for a new community health center.

"Until that building's planned, we have no plans to go to the city for closure of the road. We have not requested that," said Mike Baker, property manager for Erlanger Health System. The community health centers are part of Erlanger Health System and serve a medically needy population.

More than 30 Alton Park residents attended a meeting with health center and hospital officials at the South Chattanooga Recreation Center on Monday.

The meeting aimed to "allay the fears" of residents unsure of how the plans for a new health center would affect their neighborhood, said organizer Maria Noel, Renewal Community manager at the Enterprise Center.

Some had been disturbed by rumors Ohls Avenue would be permanently closed to traffic to make way for the new Southside Community Health Center, planned for an 8.2-acre tract at Ohls Avenue and 38th Street.

Ohls Avenue cuts diagonally through the property, which the city donated to the health centers last year.

The road is not heavily trafficked and there are a number of routes out of the neighborhood other than Ohls Avenue.

But local residents still chafe at the possibility of closure, said Rose Mary Porter, president of the Villages at Alton Park Neighborhood Watch.

"It doesn't matter for the people who don't live in that area, but for the people who live in that area, it's a big deal," she said. "If it was an issue of the health center or the street, I would want the health center. But if we could have both, that's what I would like to see."

The meeting also gave residents the chance to tell Erlanger officials what health services they want at the new center. Residents' suggestions included dental and vision services; mental health; physical therapy, in partnership with the recreation center; a pharmacy; and a more child-friendly environment to help entertain children while waiting for care.

The current Southside Community Health Center is in an aging building, formerly Franklin Middle School, on 37th Street and set off from any major roads.

Ohls Avenue is temporarily closed as city workers cleanup glass and waste left on the property from a now-defunct glass factory, a project funded by an Environmental Protection Agency grant.

Erlanger hospital leaders are seeking $2 million to $3 million to fund construction of the planned health center, Charlesetta Woodard-Thompson, Erlanger chief operating officer, said at the meeting.

about Emily Bregel...

Health care reporter Emily Bregel has worked at the Chattanooga Times Free Press since July 2006. She previously covered banking and wrote for the Life section. Emily, a native of Baltimore, Md., earned a bachelor’s degree in American Studies from Columbia University. She received a first-place award for feature writing from the East Tennessee Society of Professional Journalists’ Golden Press Card Contest for a 2009 article about a boy with a congenital heart defect. She ...

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