The months-long impasse between county government and a non-profit organization that provides health care services to the needy in Northwest Georgia and beyond is over.
On Feb. 20, the Walker County Board of Education's trustees agreed to lease the former Fairview Elementary School, now vacant except for Ridgeland High wrestlers using its gymnasium as a training facility, to Primary Healthcare Centers.
Since opening its first clinic more than 38 years ago in Trenton, PHC has full-service medical facilities in Catoosa, Chattooga, Dade, Polk and Walker counties.
Licensed physicians and staff at PHC clinics accept patients who are insured, including Medicare and Medicaid, underinsured or uninsured. Those with no insurance can qualify for a sliding fee-for-services scale.
In 2008, PHC used grant funding, including a county match of in-kind service, to convert the vacant Walker County Health Department building in Rossville..
Following his election in 2016, Walker County Commissioner Shannon Whitfield has attempted to alter the agreement whereby PHC utilized the county-owned building on Suggs Street as a clinic.
Following the school board's action Tuesday night, the issue seems settled, as described by PHC's CEO Diana Allen following the vote.
"After months of failed negotiations, Primary Healthcare Centers (PHC) was notified by the Walker County Commissioner on Jan. 30, 2018, that it must vacate the county owned buildings in Rossville and Lafayette within 60 days, or no later than March 31, 2018." she said.
Allen said that upon receipt of the eviction notice she approached Walker County Schools Superintendent Damon Raines regarding the possibility of leasing the unoccupied Fairview school building for the purpose of relocating its Rossville medical clinic and support staff and the Lafayette administrative staff to that building.
Walker County Schools provided the following statement regarding the decision to lease the vacant school:
"The Walker County Board of Education was approached by officials representing Primary Health Care regarding utilization of a vacant property owned by the Board. The members of the Board took this under consideration during their Planning Session on Tuesday, February 13 and have agreed to the following terms on the property located at 205 Jenkins Road in Rossville.
-Utilities-including gas, water, and electricity; insurance (building and contents) and camera/video surveillance contract $1,424.00
Total Monthly Cost: $2,500
Lease Terms: March 1, 2018-February 28, 2019."
"Since we can’t remain in the City of Rossville, the Fairview location is an excellent option," Allen said. "It allows continued access for all of our Rossville patients while providing an opportunity for us to better serve the Fairview community."
Allen stated Primary Healthcare Centers has had a successful partnership with the Walker County School District for more than three years with its school-based health clinic at Gilbert Elementary. PHC has also collaborates with the school system on many health and wellness events and activities with the school system’s students and faculty throughout the year.
In addition, PHC is now provides telehealth services for students and school personnel at Stone Creek Elementary School and is initiating a dental health project to "screen and clean" students’ teeth at Rossville Elementary.
PHC medical staff and officials note that this agreement with Walker County Schools is a very positive expansion of the work already occurring between the two organizations.
"We are extremely honored to be able to expand the work we are doing with the Walker County School District and to continue our focus on the health care needs of all the children in Walker County," Allen said.
The new clinic's Jenkins Road location is slightly more than two miles from the Suggs Road site, she said, adding that some assistance with transportation might be available for clients.
PHC has recently purchased the building that once housed hospice services at Hutcheson hospital in Fort Oglethorpe and plans to convert that space, after extensive remodeling, for use as a permanent corporate office.
County spokesman Joe Legge offered these comments on the commissioner's behalf:
Legge noted that a revised lease offer — for both the LaFayette and Rossville properties —had been sent to PHC on Jan. 30. That offer also contained a written 60-day notice to terminate the previous lease agreements on the two properties. The notice was served as a courtesy, since the building use agreement on the Rossville property expired on Aug. 31, 2017, and the building use agreement on the LaFayette property expired on Jan. 31, 2018.
"We have not heard from PHC in two weeks," he wrote Wednesday afternoon, Feb. 21. "Their last communication to us was that their board was still considering its options, since PHC continues to thrive in our community and needs more space.
"We recognize the high quality medical and dental care services Primary Healthcare provides to the North Georgia region. That's why Walker County government has worked in good faith for more than nine months to reach a resolution with PHC that would also benefit our citizens."