In July, South DeKalb-based Oakhurst took over primary healthcare for adults at two county health centers, South DeKalb Health Center on Clifton Springs Road in Decatur, and the East DeKalb Health Center in Lithonia.
On Sept. 13, it will open a new health center on Wall Street in Conyers that incorporate and expand on the Healing Hands Health Center, supported for 10 years by Rockdale Medical Center.
William Murrain, Oakhurst Medical Centers' chief executive officer, said that changing economic times and shrinking health coverage from the state are helping grow the number of residents in both counties who have very little or no health insurance coverage.
"These conditions are pushing more people to Oakhurst's door," Murrain said.
This year the state cut Peachcare and Medicaid coverage by 12 percent and with coupled with layoffs caused by the poor economic conditions, Murrain said Oakhurst saw its uninsured patients grow by 18 percents.
The non-profit company, which has provided healthcare for the medically indigent, under-insured and uninsured in DeKalb County for 24 years, operates health centers on Candler Road in Decatur and on Memorial Drive in Stone Mountain.
It is a Federally Qualified Community Health Center (FQCHC) that gets a third of its budget from the federal government. Individuals and families who get service from the center pay a sliding fee scale based on income and family size. The minimum fee is $30.
In DeKalb, Oakhurst has been providing the full-range of healthcare services to adolescents, adults and seniors at the Clifton Springs and East DeKalb clinics since July 1.
Georgina Howard, the DeKalb Board of Health's director of personal health, said the board voted in last spring to re-focus its mission on public health and safety and away from primary health care.
"We are no longer providing primary health care," Howard said. "Oakhurst is now the provider of primary health care at those centers."
The Board of Health also has a similar arrangement with Grady Health System to provide primary care at its North DeKalb and Kirkwood Centers. Children's Healthcare of Atlanta is providinge pediatric services at the Clifton Springs, East DeKalb and Central DeKalb clinics.
Howard said Oakhurst has a year to assume care for as many of the 1,500 patients who use both the Clifton Springs and the East DeKalb Centers. Through June 2005, it is providing that care at both clinics with its staff. Once the transition is complete, Murrain said Oakhurst will open a third DeKalb clinic in 2005 to meet the needs of the new patients.
The Rockdale County expansion followed when Murrain noticed in late 2002 and early 2003 that a growing number of Oakhurst's patients were coming from ZIP codes in that county.
The Healing Hands Family Health Center, formally known as the Kerr Family Clinic, was a free clinic operated by Rockdale Medical Center. It served primarily the Hispanic residents of Lakeview Estates in Conyers, as well as other residents of Rockdale and Newton counties.
Lisa Gillespie, a doctor and board chairperson at Rockdale Medical Center, said demand for the clinic's services had begun to outpace its financial capabilities and resources. Talks began in April 2003 with Oakhurst Medical Centers.
"Based on those discussions and Oakhurst's history of providing high quality, accessible services to the medically indigent and underinsured residents of DeKalb County, it became apparent to the Healing Hands' board that Oakhurst was capable to meet the needs of the Rockdale community," she said.
The 4,200-square-foot Oakhurst center will be at 2395 Wall St. Suite 700, in the Conyers Office Suite with five employees.
Murrain said it will be full-service and more centrally located than the Healing Hands clinic. The space is under renovation. Murrain said Oakhurst will host an open house from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sept. 11 for residents.
With both expansions, Oakhurst has added 15 new employees, which includes doctors, nurses and front office staff up from 35.
In 2003, patients made 19,500 medical visits to Oakhurst health clinics, up 16 percent from 2002. Murrain said 62 percent of the Oakhurst patients are on Medicaid and Peachcare, 12 percent on Medicare and 8 percent have private insurance. The others have no coverage and pay a minimum fee of $30 to get service at the center.
Since February, Oakhurst has been offering its services to clients of the Georgia Department of Labor Career Center on Covington Highway. Murrain said people without jobs often don't have health insurance. Each week, Oakhurst's staff offers information about its low-cost services and free blood pressure checks to job hunters and newly laid-off workers.
Murrain said the presence of Oakhurst in a community helps hospitals by reducing the number of uninsured patients who use their emergency rooms at great costs to them.
Oakhurst Clinics in DeKalb County are at 1760 Candler Road in Decatur (404-286-2142), and at 770 Village Square Drive in Stone Mountain (404-298-7658).