At the last county commission meeting, the board heard a presentation from Southwest Georgia Healthcare, a not for profit healthcare organization which runs nearly 80 community health centers throughout southwest Georgia. The organization is seeking a letter of support from the Board of Commissioners to go towards applying for a grant from the federal government that will equal $500,000 to go towards start up and paying the salaries of the employees. According to Ajay Gehlot of Southwest Georgia Healthcare, the group aims to provide healthcare to the uninsured population of the community, however anyone is able to go to one of their centers. The board took no action at the meeting.
Gelot went on to say the health centers offer lower cost visits to the uninsured and those living below the poverty level, with someone living 100 percent below the poverty level being charged on $25; someone living between 100 percent and 200 percent being charged $35; and those who live above that level being charged $50 per visit.
“We serve anybody, but our main mission is the uninsured. In 2013 we served around 84,000 people,” said Gehlot
Commissioner Lorenzo Wilder enquired as to how the organization can keep its prices so low to the patients and still be able to pay the doctors and was told that they operate on the Walmart principal; meaning they use discount prices for a large volume of customers. Wilder also asked how a low-cost clinic such as this would affect the local physicians already in the community. Gehlot answered that some of the smaller practices have closed down and joined with Southwest Georgia Healthcare because it is beneficial, with the organization taking care of all of the government requirements such as malpractice insurance. He stressed though that their operation is not in competition with local physicians because they are serving a different portion of the population.
“Our target population is different than what the medical community serves. Forty percent of the people in this county are uninsured and when they get sick they go to the Emergency Room, which makes the hospital overwhelmed.”
He continued, stating they work with the hospital and send their patients to them if something comes up that they cannot handle. In his opinion, their facilities are there to hopefully treat patients before their condition becomes serious. He stated if they can provide regular care to people who do not have access to it, then they will not get in the position of having something small become critical.
Commission Chairman Rusty Blackston asked if the clinic would be employing a doctor or just use physician’s assistants (P.A.), as well as asking how many of the other communities they serve have a hospital like Upson County. Mr. Gehlot stated if they get the grant, one of the stipulations is they have to be up and running in 120 days, therefore they may start with just using P.A.’s while they search for a physician to hire. He noted of the areas they serve in the state - Crisp County, Tift County, Dodge County, Americas and Peach County - all have either large medical centers, smaller hospitals or a critical care facility. The closest community to Upson County that has a Southwest Georgia Healthcare facility is Butler, which just recently opened a few months ago.
After speaking with Gehlot, Blackston asked if the board chose not to offer a letter of support, could the organization still apply for a grant. Gehlot stated they could but that is not what they want.
“If we ever come into a community, we want to be a part of the community,” said Gehlot. “Yes, we can apply without the support of the Board of Commissioners, but that is not what we want. We want to work with the people in this community.”
The board thanked Gehlot for his presentation and stated they would be in touch.
Ashley Biles can be reached by calling 706-647-5414 or on Twitter @AshleyBiles1