Community can help bring health center to Grayson

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Letters of support are needed by April 3 to help county apply for funding to open a federal healthcare center

By Shaina Stockton

INDEPENDENCE — Grayson County is partnering with Tri-Area Community Health in an initiative to bring a Federally Qualified Healthcare Center (FQHC) to the aid of the community.

The healthcare center initiative has been high on the county’s list of priorities since the concept was introduced in 2017 and has moved through several phases in the past year.

The county conducted a Community Health Assessment last year, which required at least 300 responses to meet the qualifications. The community responded in full force, doubling the required number of responses at 600.

“We have a great need for healthcare accessibility in our community,” County Administrator Bill Shepley said in a recent interview with the newspaper. In Grayson County, a citizen’s average drive for medical care is 50 minutes — nearly three times the recommended national average.

Additionally, 60 percent of Grayson County citizens fall between low- to mid-level income.

“Federally Qualified Healthcare Centers are designed to meet patients at that pay scale, but they can accommodate anyone who needs their services,” Shepley said.

The centers are non-profit medical practices located in medically underserved areas to provide comprehensive primary healthcare to anyone seeking care, regardless of ability to pay, geographic location, residence, culture, age, sex or religion. Services include: family health, pediatrics, geriatrics, physicals, in-house labs, EKG, digital x-ray, gynecology, family planning, DOT physicals, well child exams, behavioral health counseling, retinal photography, minor office surgery, on-site pharmacy and student health.

In 2017, the board of supervisors agreed to partner with the Grayson County Senior Advocacy Committee in an effort to bring a FQHC to the county.
To have a local healthcare center, certain requirements must be met to establish the community’s need. Grayson County’s score in terms of need was nine out of 10, according to Shepley. “We were classified as a county in desperate need of healthcare.”

Not only would a FQHC offer better access to healthcare in this area, but it would also provide opportunities for employment.

Twin County Regional Healthcare in Galax and Alleghany Memorial Health in Sparta, N.C., offered their support to the county for this idea; stating that it would help them maintain a more appropriate level of patients in local emergency rooms.

In an update to this initiative, Shepley told the newspaper that the county ran into issues with federal funding at first when it was preparing the application. At the beginning of the year, the county was informed that there would be no funding provided for FQHCs in 2019.

Soon after, the county contacted Tri-Area Community Health, and met with them in February to discuss a potential partnership.

“There are two ways you can launch a new FQHC; you can do so independently, or you can partner with a FQHC that is already successful,” Shepley said.

Tri-Area Community Health currently operates facilities in Laurel Fork in Carroll County, and in Ferrum and Floyd County.

“Two weeks after meeting with [Try-Area Community Health] in Laurel Fork, we got a call from the state announcing a short window and money for FQHCs,” Shepley told the newspaper.

This news came in the second week in February, and the first part of the application was due March 12. Shepley confirmed that the first phase of the application was completed successfully and they have moved on to the next phase.

Letters Needed

The second section required in the county’s application involves sending in letters of support from local organizations, businesses and citizens. The county needs at least 20 letters to include in this phase of the application, and letters must be received by April 3.

“The federal branch is going to grant funding for 75 FQHCs throughout the entire U.S., which is a small window. But our need here is great, so we believe that our chances are favorable,” said Shepley.

The funding will be announced on Sept. 1.

If the county is granted funding for an FQHC, the main location will be in Independence, operated under Tri-Area Community Health. Shepley added that there would also be a satellite location in Fries, in partnership with Fries Community Healthcare.

Shepley announced that securing these locations will mean 20 jobs at the main location, and another two or three jobs at the satellite location.

The exact location of the main FQHC is currently under discussion and has not been confirmed for public release, Shepley explained.

“In the end, our main goal is to provide affordable healthcare services to the people,” Shepley said.

The administrator also noted that there will be minimal financial investment required from the county. He said Tri-Area Community Healthcare would operate the facility and process billing through their management, with funding from the federal government. All locations under Tri-Area Community Healthcare operate equally, and Shepley confirmed that he would be serving on the board.

A requirement for the funding, if granted, is to have the FQHC operational within 120 days of receiving the funds. Therefore, Shepley announced that the center in Independence would be open by Jan. 1, 2020.

The county needs letters of support to improve its chances of receiving the funds that are necessary to bring a FQHC to Independence. Letters of support may be submitted to: Linda C. Osborne, Office Manager, PO Box 217, Independence VA 24348. Letters must be received by April 3 to be processed for the application’s deadline. For more information, contact the county office at (276) 773-2471.