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Wednesday, Dec. 07, 2011

Hospital plans off-post clinic in Columbus

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FORT BENNING, Ga. — Martin Army Community Hospital has announced plans to unveil a primary care clinic off post for active-duty Soldiers and their Families.

Former office space at 1100 Brookstone Center Parkway is being converted into the North Columbus Medical Home, a community-based facility that will deliver the same spectrum of services available inside the gates, U.S. Army Medical Department Activity officials at Fort Benning said Friday. It’s expected to open sometime next spring, but an exact date hasn’t been determined.

“We want to bring the care to where our beneficiaries are, and we have hundreds of active-duty Families who live in that area,” said Dr. (Col.) Mark Higdon, deputy commander of clinical services for MACH. “This primary care facility will be a reflection of what we provide in the hospital. It’s going to be a mirror of what’s offered here.”

MEDDAC officials said the initiative is part of the Army’s Community Based Primary Care Clinics program, designed to improve access and quality by bringing Army medicine closer to home for Families through a standardized, cost-competitive health system. The Army Community Based Medical Home is patient-centered and team-based, too.

The staff will be made up entirely of civilian doctors, physician assistants, nurse practitioners and behavioral health professionals in an effort to build a continuous relationship between patient and provider, Higdon said.

“We want familiarity and comfort for the Families receiving care,” he said. “It should also minimize disruptions caused by deployments.”

Steve Wilkinson, group practice manager for the North Columbus Medical Home, said the Army is opening 21 clinics in communities across the nation. The first began treating active-duty Soldiers and Family members about a year ago.

The primary care facility coming next spring will be the second in Georgia. Fort Stewart opened a clinic in nearby Richmond Hill this past summer.

MACH officials believe about 8,100 beneficiaries will enroll at the North Columbus clinic, Wilkinson said. Soldiers and Families within seven different ZIP codes in the area will receive letters soon containing eligibility requirements and registration information.

Higdon said providing more access to care and the convenience of not having to drive roughly 20 miles to Martin Army Community Hospital were key factors in selecting that location. Overall, the medical homes will make it easier for Families to seek primary care while easing the demand at on-post hospitals.

“That’s the driving force behind these clinics,” he said. “It’s just what the Army Family needs: more appointments and the personal touch our Soldiers and Families deserve. … This concept is unparalleled in the medical community.”

Wilkinson said the clinic won’t be open to military retirees or the general public because the Army funding is aimed specifically at Family-ready care. Annual operating costs are forecast between $3.8 million and $4.2 million.

“It’s tied to readiness,” he said. “This will help our Soldiers not worry about what’s going on with their Family members, so they can accomplish the mission.”

The Savannah District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is wrapping up an architectural design for the facility, he said. The project will cost up to $750,000. Once a final blueprint is drawn up, work should be done within 120 days.

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