Focus and Health Care

County may merge two health clinics

October 1, 2012
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Kent County has been looking for a location where it could consolidate the health department's clinics in Kentwood and Wyoming under a single roof. The looking has gone on quietly for roughly two years, but Kent County Assistant Administrator Wayman Britt said the search may be over.

Britt recently told the county's Executive Committee the former Kentwood library at 4700 Kalamazoo Ave. SE would make an appropriate location for the clinic. The building has about 16,000 square feet of space on about 6.5 acres, if the vacant one-acre property adjacent to the building is included in the mix. The city of Kentwood has the empty structure on the market and one listing had the price at $600,000.

Britt also said the building is strategically located in relation to the current clinics. The Kentwood Clinic is at 1620 44th St. SE, while the one in Wyoming is at 852 47th St. SW. Those locations are four miles apart and each has clients from both cities.

The clinics serve thousands of residents each year. On average, a county-run clinic immunizes 6,000 adults and children annually and has 5,500 enrolled in the Women, Infants and Children Program. Also, there are 15,000 Medicaid-eligible individuals who live in Kentwood and don't receive regular dental care.

The estimated cost to move both clinics to the location is $2.5 million. Of that total, $1.3 million would be spent on rehabbing the building. Another $600,000 would go toward purchasing the necessary dental equipment, and the remaining $600,000 would be spent to acquire the building.

But to make the project more affordable, Britt said partnerships are needed. One would be with the Michigan Community Dental Clinics. MCDC is a nonprofit based in Boyne City and has 21 locations in the state, with the offices in Gaylord and Big Rapids the closest.

MCDC was created in 2006 to deliver public health dental services throughout Michigan to Medicaid patients and uninsured individuals whose income is 200 percent below the federal poverty level. MCDC serves about 50,000 patients annually.

"They've been around for six years and have a very good business model," said Britt.

MCDC needs to align itself with the county's health department in order to collect Medicaid payments. Britt has asked the nonprofit to purchase the dental equipment as its part of the deal, which would remove a $600,000 expense from the project. He said the organization's executives were considering doing that.

Britt also said he has asked Kentwood officials to waive the building's purchase price and either transfer it to the county for, say, $1, or offer the county an inexpensive long-term lease. Either would remove another $600,000 from the expense sheet.

"We don't know where the city of Kentwood stands on this," said Britt. "We would be reducing expenses and providing the same services."

Britt said the county already has raised $400,000 from foundations for the consolidation and hopes to raise another $100,000. If Kentwood and MCDC comply with the county's requests, the county's portion of the $2.5 million budget would become $800,000. Britt said the county has set aside $430,000 to merge the clinics, which leaves Kent looking for $370,000 to meet its goal of $800,000. 

"We would at least be able to get out of it with our equity in place," said Britt. "We think there is a possibility that Spectrum Health may get involved. We've approached them."

The county's Facilities Management Department made a capital improvements request for $1.23 million to consolidate the south side clinics, but it didn't make the CIP spending list this year.

Commissioner Harold Voorhees, who represents Wyoming on the board and chairs the county's Finance Committee, said cost is as much of an issue as closing the Wyoming clinic.

"Access is very important," said Voorhees, a past mayor of Wyoming. "Then there is the financial factor — what you can raise and what you can come up with."

Britt said Wyoming residents would have access, and not just to the county's clinic. He said Cherry Street Health Services is planning to open a new clinic in the former Classic Chevrolet showroom at 2929 Burlingame Ave. SW in Wyoming. "We have $430,000 currently," he said of the county's portion.

Commissioner Dan Koorndyk pointed out that the merged clinic's patients wouldn't only come from Kentwood and Wyoming because the targeted site isn't far from the southeast side of Grand Rapids. "That's a high-need zip code," said Commissioner Harold Mast of 49508, the district's mailing address.

Britt said merging the two into the former Kentwood library is only a proposal at this point. A tentative deadline for pushing past the proposal stage is Oct. 30.

"It would be a better clinic than we currently have and we would save $60,000 in operations," he said. "We'll come back to the board at some time."

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