Thursday, February 4, 2010

New Health Center to Serve Uninsured, Underinsured

If you ever visit City Hall and enter via Laurel Street, you've probably seen the sign for the new Community Health Care Center across the street. It's actually part of the CVS plaza on North Main, but the door faces Laurel Street. It's a non-profit primary care medical office, aimed at serving the uninsured and underinsured. Today I met the director, a nice woman named Yvette Highsmith-Francis. After an interview with her, I wrote this for the Friday edition of The Bristol Press (

BRISTOL – A new medical practice that specializes in treating uninsured and underinsured people is opening this month in downtown Bristol.
Director Yvette Highsmith-Francis said she will open the Bristol office of Community Health Center Inc. with a physician, nurse and receptionist.
“We’re really a safety net organization,” said Highsmith-Francis.
She said the center, which primarily serves people on Medicaid, SAGA and other similar programs as well as people without any insurance, is a family practice office that will begin seeing patients on Feb. 15.
It is by appointment only and not an urgent care center or walk-in clinic, she said. It is also not a surgery or specialty center, but a primary care office.
“We take anyone who needs a medical home,” said Highsmith-Francis. “If you have a doctor somewhere else, you can’t see us.”
Anyone who already has a primary care physician and wants to use Community Health Center instead has to transfer their records, she said.
Those without insurance pay a fee according to a six-tiered sliding scale based on household size and income, she said. Fees can be as low as $10 for the poorest patients.
Self employed people make up many of those served, she said.
The small office – in the CVS plaza at 59 North Main St., facing Laurel Street and City Hall – is one of a dozen non-profit Community Health Centers in Connecticut, said Highsmith-Francis. The organization started in 1972 in Middletown, she said, as a free dental clinic and now provides dental work in 140 Connecticut schools.
Dr. Melanie Rausche will be the primary care physician staffing the Bristol office, according to Highsmith-Francis.
They provide a scope of services that includes primary medical care, dental care and mental and behavioral health care. Not all offices offer everything, and at least initially, the Bristol office will not offer dental or mental health care.
The Community Health Center has an office in New Britain that serves 12,000 patients, said Highsmith-Francis. She said 900 or more are Bristol residents.
Many of the Bristol residents will probably stay with the New Britain practice rather than switch doctors, she said, but she still expects about two-thirds to transfer to the new Bristol office.
“Transportation is an issue for people,” she said. “We hope to be able to grow based on the needs of the community.”
The Community Health Centers are under federal oversight, she said, and qualify for higher reimbursement rates for services to Medicaid patients and low cost prescription drugs for uninsured patients.
In order for her organization to set up an office in Bristol, Highsmith-Francis said, the city had to qualify as a medically underserved community without enough primary care physicians for its residents.
The Bristol office will at times offer the services of a nutritionist, a diabetes educator and a podiatrist to serve diabetics, she said.
The office will help uninsured people file directly to the state Department of Social Services for assistance, said Highsmith-Francis.
For those who are income eligible, the lab work is free through Quest and prescriptions are at wholesale, or government rates, she said, at Walgreens.
Highsmith-Francis said the office will begin making appointments next week. Anyone interested can call at (860)585-5000.

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