By Cindy V. Culp, Tribune-Herald staff writer, reprinted from the Waco Tribune-Herald
Access to medical and dental services in some of Waco’s poorest neighborhoods will dramatically increase in the coming months as Family Health Center completes a round of expansion projects. The center will open a new medical clinic next week in East Waco, at the corner of Herring Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. Then the center will unveil a new dental wing in early August at the Elm Avenue Community Clinic, also located in East Waco.
By the end of the year, the center also plans to open a three-story development on its main site in North Waco. In addition to medical and dental offices, it will include a fitness center and a nutrition center that will sell healthy food items, chief financial and operating officer Allen Patterson said. “The need is there,” Patterson said of the services that will be offered at the new facilities. “In fact, we’re already talking about the future.”
The center runs a network of clinics throughout McLennan County. Designed to serve the poor and uninsured, the clinics offer basic medical and dental services. For years, the center has wanted to boost its presence in East Waco, Patterson said. A large number of residents there fall within the center’s target population — households with incomes of up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level. The Elm Avenue clinic doesn’t have enough capacity to serve them all, Patterson said. Plus, it hasn’t offered dental care.
Investing in East Waco
When the center learned two years ago that it was getting federal stimulus money for capital projects, it decided to invest much of the money in East Waco, Patterson said. Officials are particularly happy with the location of the new clinic because it is near the Estella Maxey public housing complex, he said. Called the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Clinic, it will be Family Health’s 12th site, Patterson said. Eventually, the facility will house four medical providers.
At the Elm Avenue clinic, the expansion is more than doubling the size of the clinic, Patterson said. Most of that new room will be used for a dental wing, which will house three dentists. The price tag for the new clinic is about $1.35 million and the Elm Avenue expansion is costing about $1.85 million, Patterson said. About two-thirds of that cost is covered by the federal stimulus dollars. The rest of the money came from fundraising, he said.
Shirley Langston, who runs a Christian ministry at Estella Maxey, said she thinks the new clinic will result in more of her clients getting health care. Some miss appointments or don’t schedule them because they can’t get to the doctor’s office, she said. “They’re excited because they can walk there,” Langston said.
The other big project Family Health has in the works is a three-story building being constructed next to its headquarters at 1600 Providence Drive. Stimulus money covers nearly the entire price tag of $5.6 million. The building’s top two floors will hold medical and dental offices. They will be occupied by three new dentists and four medical providers, Patterson said. On the bottom floor, the space will be divided between a fitness enter and a “nutrition center” that will sell healthy foods and offer cooking classes. The facility will be limited to patients, because of stipulations attached to the federal money. But Patterson said he expects it to be well used because Family Health serves about 49,000 people.
Baylor University staff and students will help with programs at the center, such as teaching cooking classes and assisting patients at the fitness center. That expertise should help make the project one that can be a nationwide model, Patterson said. The center has 111 medical and dental providers. That includes 78 physicians and 13 dentists, Patterson said. Each of the new providers being hired because of the expansion projects will be able to serve 25 patients per day, Patterson said. Last year, the center provided medical care to about 42,000 patients and dental services to about 15,000 people, Patterson said.