*This story originally appeared in The Budget’s January 10, 2018 Local Edition.
By Stacey Carmany
Established in September 2015 as a program of Community Mental Healthcare, the Community Family Health Center was founded on the belief that everyone deserves access to quality healthcare regardless of their ability to pay.
Located on Bellevue Avenue in Dover, the Community Family Health Center serves as a one-stop shop where low-income and uninsured individuals and their families can access basic and comprehensive health care services, behavioral health services, and soon, primary dental care.
“We’re putting mental health, physical health and dentistry all together as kind of a one-stop shop for healthcare for people who do not have easy access to any of those services,” explained Eric Riley, director of the Community Family Health Center.
At the Community Family Health Center, patients can access an array of basic and comprehensive medical services including routine primary care, physicals, pediatric and elderly care, nutritional counseling, chronic disease management services, recommended exams and screenings for both men and women, and much more.
The center’s medical team includes Nurse Practitioner Shannone Koch and Dr. Robert Ley, a retired family physician who previously practiced in Dover. Riley noted that unlike an emergency room or stat care center, patients of the Community Family Health Center are assigned to one of the center’s two medical professionals and will see the same individual each time they visit. “When they come in here, if they see Shannone or they see Dr. Ley, that’s their doctor from here on out,” he explained. “It’s not coming into a stat care and seeing somebody and then next time you come in you see somebody else.”
Riley noted that the center is also equipped with state-of-the-art equipment including a vitals machine that is tied directly into an electronic recordkeeping system. “This is a great little clinic here,” Riley shared. “The facilities here and the equipment here and the people here are nicer than most private practices.”
In addition to primary healthcare services, patients can also access basic behavioral health services including individual and family counseling, mental health assessments, grief counseling and referrals. “We have an in-house behavioral health counselor that works with the physicians in handling diagnosed things like depression, anxieties, those types of things where they can come in, see the doctor, do the counseling and not have to keep running back and forth,” the director shared.
Riley explained that the center was established primarily to serve uninsured and low-income patients or those on Medicare or Medicaid. It is what is known as a Federally Qualified Health Center, or FQHC, more commonly known as a community health center. FQHCs are essentially safety net providers that provide services typically furnished in an outpatient clinic.
Over the last decade, the number of community health clinics in the state of Ohio has skyrocketed, according to Riley. He recalled in 2007 there being 23 community health centers in the state of Ohio with about 35 clinic locations. Today, there are about 50 community health care centers in the state with 280 clinic locations.
“They are rapidly growing to become the primary care centers for a lot of communities, hopefully, to take the place of overused emergency rooms for those folks who don’t have insurance or private physicians,” Riley explained.
For patients without health insurance, the center offers an income-based sliding fee scale. “If our charge is $100 for a patient, and they’re at 20 percent based on their income, then their bill for that day is $20,” Riley explained.
To supplement the cost of providing the services on the sliding scale, the center receives about $700,000 in grant funding from the U.S. government, according to Riley.
Although the center’s primary service area is Tuscarawas County, Riley noted that patients do not need to be county residents to receive services. “We can take anyone from anywhere,” he stated. “There are no geographical boundaries on our clinic.”
This year the center will also begin offering basic dental care to fill the gap in service for low-income and uninsured patients created with the closure of the Tuscarawas County Health Department’s dental clinic at the beginning of 2017. “We’re going to be opening a primary care dental practice with a full-time dentist and dental hygienist,” Riley explained. “Since the Health Department closed their dental practice there is no safety-net dental practice in Tuscarawas County anymore.”
The center recently purchased and installed a panoramic x-ray machine, and three rooms in the facility have been outfitted with dental chairs and digital equipment. “It’s expensive, but we feel that it’s a really needed service and it will do well,” Riley stated. “We expect a real boom in patient activity.”
Riley noted that a dental hygienist has already been hired, and now it’s just a matter of finding a full- time dentist. “That’s been the hard part,” Riley said. “We’re just right now negotiating with a dentist that we think will start probably early 2018.”
The Community Family Health Center is located at 204 Bellevue Ave. in Dover. Hours of operation are Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Tuesdays from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Fridays from 7:30 a.m. to noon. For more information or to schedule an appointment, call 234- 801-4747.