Officials ask for Norcross health center

LAWRENCEVILLE - Health officials have penned a grant seeking funding to bring a federally qualified health center to Norcross, an area deemed medically underserved.

As opposed to a clinic that focuses on sickness prevention, this center would be a primary care facility concentrating on patients once they are sick.

A federally qualified medical center functions like a doctor's office, uses the federal poverty income guidelines for a sliding fee scale and would accept everyone regardless of their ability to pay, according to an official health board report.

"Gwinnett is the largest county without a federally qualified health center east of the Mississippi River," said Vernon Goins, East Metro Health District spokesman.

This medical center would be federally protected and partially funded and although not a free clinic, it would be affordable, Goins said.

"The money from the federal government (would be) seed money. Under the grant, we would get $600,000 in funding from the federal government each year," Goins said. "Operating expenses will be roughly $1.5 million and the rest we will make up with business partners in the community."

While the Board of Health is a player, the Norcross center would be independent, Goins said. The Board of Health's role would be to provide oversight, but there would be no crossover of staff.

"We really feel we have a crack at this," Goins said.

And he may be right for two reasons: First, President Bush has outlined a five-year plan for federally qualified health centers, which includes 1,200 new or expanded health center sites. In 2005, Bush proposed a 17.5 percent increase in funding, which pushed funding up to

$2 billion. Secondly, Goins said, there are several federally qualified health centers in Fulton and DeKalb counties, but there is nothing in Gwinnett, a county brimming with more than 700,000 residents.

The East Metro Health District has been working on the proposal all year and is waiting to be given a date to submit its grant to the federal government.

"They may send it back for tweaking but we should hear something (after submitting the grant) in spring," Goins said.

If plans go smoothly and the grant is accepted, the building could be completed as soon as summer 2007.