Clay County has a shortage of doctors and is medically underserved with a limited safety net system for the poor and uninsured, health care authorities say.
Baptist Clay Medical Campus opens Wednesday on Fleming Island, while St. Vincent’s Medical Center Clay County will open Oct. 1 in Middleburg. Orange Park Medical Center in Orange Park has long served Clay patients of all economic means.
The addition of Baptist and St. Vincent’s should provide greater access to medical care for some residents but it’s not a cure-all, said Dawn Emerick, executive director of the Health Planning Council of Northeast Florida.
“What still needs to be addressed in Clay is the safety net issue,” said Emerick, citing community health needs assessment studies dating back to 2010.
The number is increasing, but Clay still doesn’t have enough physicians and other health care professionals for its population. Overall, the county is among the most underserved when it comes to hospital beds per 1,000 residents, according to the council’s 2012 assessment.
The Keystone Heights and Penney Farms areas are among areas of the county designated as medically underserved under U.S. Health and Human Services guidelines.
About 87 percent of Clay residents have some type of health insurance, which is higher than the state and national average. But nearly a quarter of county residents age 18 to 44 are uninsured, assessment data showed.
Meanwhile, 21 percent growth is projected in the Medicare population of Clay County.
The county’s safety net providers include hospitals, the public health department, medical clinics operated by nonprofits, faith-based organizations and private health care providers. However, funding decreases and budget constraints limit the amount of care and access available to the uninsured, according to the assessment.
St. Vincent’s outreach ministry helps the poor, homeless and uninsured in Clay, Nassau and Duval counties. Baptist Health and Orange Park also provide health care services to those unable to pay.
The Way Free Medical Clinic based in Green Cove Springs provides comprehensive medical care for about 1,800 to 2,200 poor or uninsured county residents a year. The nonprofit counts Orange Park Medical Center, St. Vincent’s and Baptist Health among its major backers. The three hospitals support the free medical clinic either with financial contributions or by providing diagnostic and lab services for little or no cost, said Christy Fitzgerald, clinic executive director.
Fitzgerald hopes to expand the clinic’s relationship with all three hospitals to reach more of the medically underserved. That goal is shared by the health department, said Winifred Holland, agency administrator. Both are optimistic that it will happen.
The hospitals as well as patients would benefit from an expanded arrangement, Fitzgerald said.
Fitzgerald said more uninsured patients going to the emergency room for routine care such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes checks, can drive up a hospital’s medical costs. The Way already is working with Orange Park Medical Center to develop a system so those patients will be referred to the clinic so it can become their medical home. Such a system also could work with Baptist Health and St. Vincent’s, too, she said
“That way they are not constantly running to the ER for things that you and I, maybe with insurance, typically see our primary care physicians for,” Fitzgerald said.
Read more at Jacksonville.com: http://jacksonville.com/community/clay/2013-04-29/story/clay-county-medically-underserved-health-care-authorities-say#ixzz2SASs3hFG