County health to expand primary care hours

Paul Myers
Paul Myers

The Florida Department of Health in Alachua County will be expanding hours of operation next month as a result of the approval of a $500,000 funding increase.

Paul Myers, administrator for Florida Department of Health in Alachua County, made the request during Tuesday’s regular Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) meeting.

Myers referred to plans for a future urgent care facility being proposed for East Gainesville, but said there is still more need for an increase in preventive and primary health care in at least three zip codes in Alachua County that have the highest death rates.

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The zip codes 32641, 32601 and 32609 are driving death rate data in the county and are all located in northeast and southeast Gainesville, Myers told the board.

“The urgent care center is a wonderful addition and it is certainly going to fill a lot of gaps on the east side,” Myers said about the UF Health proposal.

That proposal made at a recent BOCC meeting by UF Health CEO Ed Jimenez and Dr. Marvin Dewar was for an 8,000-square foot urgent care facility that would house labs, X-rays, splinting and sutures, and would offer future services on the the property such as dentistry, mental health and a mobility hub. The plan is for it to operate seven days a week and accept walk-ins.

Myers quoted community health assessment statistics from the Florida Department of Health (FDOH) website as the foundation of his request.

The three zip codes have the highest per capita death rates per 100,000, Myers said, adding that out of the “Top 10 death causes, eight could be addressed with continuity of care.

“Deaths attributable to heart disease from 2014-2018 were consistently higher for the Black population (150.8 deaths per 100,000 in 2018) versus the White population (124.8 deaths per 100,000) in Alachua County,” the report states, “Similar racial disparities emerged for cancer, stroke, and diabetes with the Black population experiencing consistently higher burden than the White population.”

Myers said that 10 years ago, the county health department addressed these same disparities by expanding hours to seven days a week but lack of funding ended the expansion.

For that reason, Myers asked the BOCC to approve a $500,000 investment to expand primary care hours from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., to add two extra hours Monday through Friday to 7 p.m., and to add another 10 hours to the clinic by operating on Saturdays and Sundays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Myers said that expansion would allow for an extra 80 appointments per week or more than 4,000 additional primary care appointments per year.

During September and October of 2020, the health department saw 14,000 clients, which was down from 20,000 clients pre-pandemic, Myers told the BOCC.

He listed the diseases putting East Gainesville residents at risk include heart disease, stroke, diabetes, asthma, kidney inflammation, hypertension, and HIV.

“These are all things that can be very well managed with primary and continuity of care,” Myers said, adding that if funds were to be approved, “We could have this stood up in about a month, we are pretty nimble at the DOH.”

Commissioner Mary Alford said, “I recognize the need, many people in East Gainesville would make use of these hours.” 

Alford made a motion to approve the request for funds.

Commissioner Anna Prizzia asked that more effort be put into outreach and education along with the additional hours. She said that the health department work with other organizations in the county should increase that outreach with a “call to primary health care providers to bring forward ways to increase preventative education.”

Myers said that since expanded hours ended, the health department has teamed up with a local pastor’s association and with medical facilities to address diabetes and other preventative diseases in Alachua County, and did so with an agreement with UF Health’s ER diversion program.

The funding source for the initial increase in hours could come from the American Rescue Plan Act, BOCC Chair Ken Cornell suggested. The BOCC directed staff to look into amending the just approved budget to find another source of funding to continue the program after that.

Commissioner Charles Chestnut, who operates Chestnut Funeral Home, was all in favor of the expanded care hours.

“Another 80 appointments a week, about 4,100 appointments a year,” he said, “any health care we can do or extend in East Gainesville, it’s outrageous the death rates there.”

The funding request was approved with a unanimous vote.

The Alachua County areas with the highest mortality rates were all in Gainesville, as shown through the Zip Code Tabulation Areas (ZCTA), were 32641 (1,033.6 per 100,000 population), ZCTA 32601 (971.2 per 100,000 population), and ZCTA 32609 (893.0 per 100,000 population). Mortality rate was lowest in Hawthorne (ZCTA 32640) at 447.4 per 100,000 population

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