Buoyed by Federal Designation, Athens Neighborhood Health Center Moves Forward

The designation will help uninsured and under-insured patients in Athens.


The third time was the charm for the Athens Neighborhood Health Center, which finally won designation as a Federal Qualified Health Center (FQHC) last June.

Becoming part of this federal program, intended to improve care for medically underserved people in the community, has brought an additional $595,000 to the center.

For the past 41 years, Athens Neighborhood Health Center (ANHC) has provided comprehensive primary care to children and adults in the Athens area, whether or not they could pay.

Two doctors and five medical assistants see patients at two locations -- College Avenue near downtown and McKinley Drive in East Athens.

ANHC took a preliminary step toward becoming a Federally Qualified Health Center in 2010 when it became a so-called FQHC “look-alike.” At that time, Georgia ranked 10th in the nation with 27 FQHCs around the state.

The center’s first two attempts to win full FQHC status failed mainly due to competitions that favored other regions, said Jennifer Richardson, MBA, health educator and outreach coordinator for ANHC.

During one application period, California landed 11 of 20 FQHC certifications granted nationwide.

Richardson said “ANHC was at a disadvantage because on paper, at least, Athens appears to have enough physicians to care for the area’s population.

“But guess what? They don’t see people who don’t have insurance,” she said.

While some ANHC patients are insured, others are not. They pay depending on what they can afford. The need for service is apparent: last year the two locations had 10,275 visits and 4,467 patients. The numbers are growing.

“We have always done the same things FQHCs do, and always tried to get ourselves prepared for official certification,” said Richardson.

When a request for proposals circulated in autumn, 2011, ANHC’s staff filed all the required paperwork within 60 days. They were helped by the Georgia Association for Primary Care, the statewide organization of FQHCs in Georgia.

Six months later the good news arrived from Washington. ANHC now receives funding from United Way and the federal government.

Executive Director Dr. Diane Dunston, and Mellinda Craig, MSW, the chief operating officer have been busy traveling to Atlanta, Washington D.C. and Las Vegas to learn how to make the most of the new certification.

“The benefit of becoming a FQHC is that we are able to expand services, to provide better healthcare, to enlarge the number of people in the community as far as health care is concerned,” said Richardson.

“And we can get more providers to help us,” she added. “With two physicians seeing these patients, we’re gonna tire out the physicians and won’t have anybody to see patients.” We fear we are going to compromise the physical well being of our veteran Physicians if don’t get them some help.

Expanded services include a new mental health clinic for children and adults, provided on Tuesdays at the College Avenue location through the collaboration with Advantage Behavioral Health Systems. The clinic also has a new low cost medication arrangement with Horton’s Drug Store on Clayton Street.

They have also contracted with a local dentist, Dr. Claude Dubose, to provide care for indigent patients at his Lexington Road office.

“ANHC is also forging closer relationships with the University of Georgia’s School of Pharmacy and School of Public Health,” Richardson said.

About 20 students from School of Pharmacy did projects at ANHC during the past year, and they are conducting ongoing research involving diabetic patients who come to the center.

According to Richardson, becoming an FQHC not only helps the health center, but also paves the way for new projects that can help the Athens community as a whole. When public health funding hangs in the balance, a common question on grant proposals is whether there is an FQHC in the community.

Now the answer to that question is yes.


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