COMMUNITY HEALTH CENTERS
155,391 — Population estimate in 10 ZIP codes around Southside and Dodson Avenue Community Health Centers
35,111 — Total clinical and dental visits for FY 2010-11 at the centers
$24 billion — How much federally qualified health centers save nationwide by providing preventive care and chronic condition management
Source: Erlanger Health System, U.S. government
It's been in the works since 1968, but Erlanger Health System officials finally feel comfortable announcing a 15-month timeline for replacing a dilapidated urban health center, pending hospital board approval next week.
"We're obviously going to hustle to get this done," said Joe Winnick, Erlanger's vice president of strategic planning.
"This" means planning, designing and building a modern primary care facility aimed at people living in places such as Dalewood, Brainerd, Eastdale and South Chattanooga, where the majority of residents are uninsured and lack transportation.
The proposed site is the corner of Ohls Avenue and 38th Street -- a visible location on a main road with a bus route and 80 parking spots.
"None of those things currently exist," Winnick said.
The project goes before Erlanger's major financial committee Monday. If approved, the full board of trustees will vote on it Thursday. Bidding, design and construction are expected to take 15 months, according to a hospital business plan.
The current hub for more than 30,000 patient visits a year, Southside Community Health Center, has operated inside the former Franklin Middle School building since 1968.
In 2009, the Hamilton County Department of Education sold Franklin Middle to Helton Construction. Under the sale terms, the health center could remain inside the school for $1 a year.
But that deal expires in May 2012, meaning Helton Construction could charge the centers -- and Erlanger -- 80 percent of fair market value for the school building, officials have said.
If Erlanger doesn't make a move soon, it could be on the hook for "increased lease payments, prorated property taxes, maintenance expenses and structural improvement," according the business plan.
Helton Construction officials could not be reached Wednesday.
The Southside and Dodson Avenue Community Health Centers, both of which now handle patients from the neighborhoods expected to use the new center -- which will retain the Southside name -- have reported operating losses for three of the last five years.
Bill Hicks, executive director of the health centers, said the negative financial trend would reverse after Erlanger builds a new facility and "optimizes" Southside's essential services -- family medicine, OB/GYN and pediatrics.
The city donated the proposed site. Erlanger would choose a third-party developer to build the facility, according to the plan. The hospital would lease the building for $137,020 per year from the developer and gain the building's title after 15 years.
By 2015, increasing revenues and reduced expenses, or some combination of both, may nudge the health centers toward a "slight surplus" with the help of Erlanger's annual $800,000 overhead subsidy, records show. Eventually the need for Erlanger subsidies is expected to decline, according to the business plan.
Boosting patient numbers will require effort, Hicks said. Among the ideas are adding night hours, stepping up advertising and steering inner-city residents away from what the business plan calls "inappropriate ER utilization" for toothaches, colds and so on.
"Primary care is not an emergency," Winnick said.
Hospital officials have reported improvement on similar restoration projects.
In 2009, a $638,000 federal stimulus grant was awarded to the Dodson Avenue Community Health Center for new exam rooms, triage units and parking spaces.
Since then, the Dodson and Southside health centers have reported about 2,000 more patient visits, records show.
The proposed site on Ohls Avenue once housed a glass factory, but "environmental hazard abatement has been completed" and construction site prep is done, records show.