ELKHART — For now, the floors are bare concrete.
Workers bustle, installing window framing and measuring for planned counters. The smell of wet paint permeates above it all.
By early June, though, the barren office space at the Woodland Crossing shopping center will be a clinic, catering to those who have the toughest time securing health care. Heart City Health Center, the largest community health center in Elkhart County, is expanding to the new location in south central Elkhart, which will enable the organization to serve 3,500 more people.
The area has the highest poverty level in Elkhart and the largest concentration of people lacking health coverage, so it's a fitting location for the new facility, argues Vernita Todd, the Heart City chief executive officer. "What better place to put a health center than in a community that really needs it," she said.
Heart City, geared primarily to the uninsured and low-income people, has a current patient load of around 11,000 at its primary location, 236 Simpson Ave. But the nonprofit clinic is closed to new patients, despite demand, and the new facility, in the works for around two years, will allow the organization to temper the pent-up demand and augment health care offerings here.
"It's going to be nice not to have to say, 'I'm sorry,' to folks who need us," Todd said.
Health insurance plans available via the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, marketplace exchange have expanded coverage to some, but hardly everybody, Todd said. Those still lacking coverage, many of whom can't even access Medicaid coverage, "need access to affordable quality health care," she said.
At the same time, those who secured a health care plan on the marketplace exchange will need access to a physician, and the new clinic can potentially serve them as well. Getting a health care plan is a start then "access becomes as big an issue as coverage was," she said.
LOCATION, FUNDING, STAFFING
Here are some plan details:
The location, staffing: The new clinic, set to open June 3, is taking shape in four suites in the Woodland Crossing structure south of Sears. Work started in mid-February.
Woodland Crossing is the shopping complex located north of Hively Avenue, between Benham Avenue and Prairie Street.
It'll be called SCENIC Health, SCENIC standing for South Central Elkhart Northern Indiana Clinic, and it'll be staffed by 20 in all, including two physicians and a nurse practitioner. The larger Simpson Avenue location has eight doctors and two nurse practitioners.
Funding: A grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, announced last November, is helping get the new clinic started. The grant is for around $900,000 initially and about $650,000 per year starting in 2015, a sum that will cover around 25 percent of typical operational costs.
Heart City is spending $475,000 of its own funds to renovate the new space and will also contribute to annual operational costs.
Patients: Heart City is already receiving around 15 calls a day from people wanting to sign up for care at the new clinic. Heart City hasn't accepted new patients for a year or so. Todd said they won't formally start taking on new patients until mid-May, shortly ahead of the formal planned opening.
The new clinic will hardly meet demand for care in Elkhart County. According to 2013 U.S. Census Bureau figures, around 28,000 here lacked access to care, Todd said.
History: Construction comes on the 25th anniversary of the year the clinic was founded, in 1989. When first formed, it was called SCENIC Health and Wellness, SCENIC at that time standing for South Central Elkhart Neighborhood Improvement Corporation.
The initial location back in 1989 was in the Washington Gardens subsidized housing complex. Then the facility moved to the Simpson Avenue site. The opening of the Woodland Crossing facility reflects a return to the south central Elkhart area.