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  • Last modified 24 days ago (Nov. 21, 2019)

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Doctor pushes to open county health centers

Staff writer

Health centers that are welcome and accessible would be a welcome prospect in rural Marion County, Peabody business owner Pandea Smith said.

“Getting to the services is more difficult, so I imagine there would definitely be individuals who would seek out that care,” said the owner of Porcupine Tea Company.

The push to establish a Marion County Community Health Center is spearheaded by Hillsboro physician Michael Reeh, who said he would donate his medical practice as one location if a grant were awarded.

Local health centers would offer the regular checkups for all residents on a sliding scale to provide care to those at poverty level free of charge, Reeh said.

“It’s a different step, but I think it’s a future where everybody at poverty level won’t have to worry about paying for it,” he said. “If you have insurance then that insurance will pay.”

Establishing locations around the county would force fewer residents to travel out of their communities for medical services, Reeh said.

“Health Ministries would probably keep some of them,” he said. “It would be more convenient for some of them to come to our health center rather than go to Newton, and it would also serve those people who can’t travel to Newton.”

Cutting down on the distance patients need to travel for care would be a major asset for the prospective satellite health centers, Smith said.

“That would be huge,” she said. “Transportation is one of the biggest obstacles, especially for low-income participants, so having satellite locations would be huge. There’s certainly a big struggle with rural health in general.”

Reeh didn’t win the first grant he applied for to fund the health center, but the proposal is on a shortlist for possible funding next year.

“We want to keep people out of the hospital by providing preventative health care,” he said.

The health centers would differ from traditional doctor’s offices because they would offer gynecology services, lab screening, dentistry services, and would be accessible during emergency weather, Reeh said.

“It’s not only a safety net economically, but overall it’s a health care safety net for the county,” he said.

Reeh hopes to place centers in Tampa, Lincolnville, Peabody, and Hillsboro. He said he was unable to find possible locations in Lost Springs and Ramona.

“The ultimate goal would be to get all the practitioners to work for the health center,” he said. “We’d have a place in Marion, a place here, and these places put clinics out in the county rather than have everybody come to the middle of the county.”

St. Luke CEO Jeremy Ensey is intrigued by the idea of providing local health centers.

“I’m always interested in potential opportunities of how we can create sustainable health care in Marion County,” he said. “How do we improve access and what else can we do?”

Having a county health center could benefit the area’s critical access hospitals as well, Reeh said.

“It would save them on uncompensated care,” he said. “It would decrease the need for emergency care because people wouldn’t have to wait. They’d be able to get care right away, instead of waiting until they couldn’t stand it anymore.”

While the prospect would be interesting, new challenges could crop up for area hospitals, Ensey said.

“We have three hospitals that have closed in Kansas within the last year and other critical access hospitals that are struggling to keep their doors open,” he said. “Pulling any patients away from a potential hospital or clinic that brings in revenue would seem to exacerbate that problem. I’m still trying to learn and research that as well.” Smith, who works for a pain management clinic in Park City, said her job allows her to see the issue from both sides.

“Reimbursement from insurance companies is substandard, and insurance companies put up a lot of barriers to the clinic and members in getting care,” she said.

Last modified Nov. 21, 2019

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