Health care to expand this fall

The completion of the Nature Coast health center means that more low-income and uninsured residents will get medical help.

Published August 18, 2006

BROOKSVILLE - More uninsured and low-income residents will have access to health care when the Nature Coast Community Health Center is completed this fall.

The last phases of the project, which include a reduced-cost pharmacy and prenatal care, should be in place in the coming months, possibly by October, county health department spokeswoman Ann-Gayl Ellis said.

While residents can currently receive primary health care, dental and behavioral health services at the clinic, the department is hiring workers so it can provide more appointments.

Since more people can receive clinic services because of changes in income requirements, the health department is gearing up to provide more care to more people than it ever has.

"The many new people moving into the county will also up the numbers," Ellis said.

In 2005, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services awarded Hernando a $1.95-million grant to expand clinic services - at $650,000 a year for three years.

The county Health Department was identified as catering to medically underserved areas, which span Brooksville to northwestern Hernando County.

The shortage of primary care physicians, higher incidences of chronic illness such as heart disease and diabetes, and a high percentage of families living below 200 percent of the poverty level got the county one of 105 health center grants given out across the country.

More than $63-million went toward the goal of bringing medical care closer to the estimated 632,000 people who receive primary health care services. Before, the closest similar type of clinic available to Hernando residents was in Dade City.

By October 2007, after the second year of grant funding, the health department expects to see an additional 7,800 clients a year. About 31,000 residents received services during the 2005-06 fiscal year.

"The typical person we expect to see is a someone from a working family," Ellis said. "These are people who previously fell into the gap and weren't able to qualify for services last year."

Those who make 200 percent of the federal poverty level - up to $40,000 for a family of four - are eligible this year. Previously, only those making 120 percent qualified.

Since it first got the money in December, the department has been busy transforming its headquarters on S Main Street in Brooksville into more of a client-based stop for health care.

The environmental health, vital statistics and administrative services wings of the health department will move into the old Hernando Health Care building at 621 W Jefferson St. Renovations on that building are still ongoing.

In anticipation of the increased services, the health department also recently hired two new primary care physicians, Ellis said.

"Over the last eight months we've been hiring new staff, training and adjusting for the paperwork move," Ellis said.

"We're moving into the realm where we'll soon have everything available to the public."

Chandra Broadwater can be reached at cbroadwater@sptimes.com or 352 848-1432.