For staff members at the Good Samaritan Health Center of East Gwinnett, the dance floor may be gone but the mirror ball remains.

The center, which provides medical and dental services to the poor and uninsured, celebrated its one-year anniversary in October. A spinoff of the Good Samaritan Health Center of West Gwinnett (which was founded in 2005), the eastside facility was in a previous life a restaurant and nightclub.

The eastside facility, which in its first incarnation represented a merger between Good Samaritan and Bridge Atlanta Medical Center, originally set up shop in 2018 in a retail space on Jimmy Carter Boulevard, but it didn’t take long before the clinic needed a larger space in which to work. Thanks to a Community Block Development Grant offered by Gwinnett County, Good Samaritan set out to find its new second home.

“With the help of Gwinnett County, we acquired an empty property that we completed gutted and renovated to turn it from a restaurant and night club into a charity medical and dental practice,” said Greg Lang, Good Samaritan’s executive director. “The nightclub had a dance floor and a mirror ball. We salvaged the mirror ball and it’s hanging in the staff lounge.”

Lang added that the eastside facility has thrived in the year since it opened, noting that the organization’s growing dental service has been a key highlight.

“It’s doing well,” said Lang, who joined Good Samaritan in 2011. “We’re now seeing more new patients each month at the new location than we were in the retail space and we had enough square footage to add two more dental chairs, so now we have six dental chairs in each clinic, which makes us the largest provider of charitable dental care in Gwinnett County.”

Between the two clinics, Good Samaritan employs three full-time dentists, operates 12 dental chairs and has a full dental support two in both locations. The growth in the clinics’ dental services is a direct reflection of the broadening of just about everything associated with Good Samaritan.

Lang said that at one time, the original westside clinic (which first found a home on Club Drive in Lawrenceville before moving to a 13,000-square foot building on Buford Highway in 2016) had a small group of part-time employees and was only open two days a week. These days, Good Samaritan has 56 employees, is open six days a week and will see some 32,000 patients by the end of December.

“It’s a recovery,” said Lang of this year’s number of patient visits. “Our high was 35,000 in 2019. In 2020, with COVID, we had about a 15% drop for services. We’re not going to be at our 2019 high, but we’re close to it and next year, assuming there’s not an additional surge, we should be in full recovery and will get closer to our capacity.”

While most of Good Samaritan’s patients come from within the county, there are others who take advantage of the services offered. And even though most patients live in Gwinnett County, many hail from more than 60 different countries.

“We’re available to anyone who needs us,” said Lang. “About 85% or more of our patients do live in Gwinnett County, but we do have people who come to us from surrounding counties either because there’s no program like ours in their community or they’re not eligible for some reason, like they earn too much money or don’t have immigration documentation.

“One of the characteristics of our organization, which wasn’t really by design but evolved over time, is that more of our patients are immigrants than people born in the United States. They may have citizenship but they’re maybe first- or second-generation living in the United States…We say we are serving the world, even though we’re in Gwinnett County. There are 67 counties represented in our patient population.”

Lang added that Good Samaritan is able to pay its way through a combination of community donations and patient fees.

“It’s a discounted service,” he said. “Our fees are equal to what is a 75% discount in the private practice marketplace. (So) we have to raise money. Our business plan is we want our patients and our donors to be in a cost-sharing partnership.

“We don’t want patients to be dependent on donors and we don’t want donors to be fully responsible for funding the organization. So patients pay our discounted fees and we make up the difference with donor fees, bringing in about 70% of our operating needs and donations cover the 30%.”

Lang said he felt that in 2022, Good Samaritan will continue its work on a steady course but he also thinks growth will lead to the development of a third clinic as early as 2023.

“We are hoping that we can acquire another location in 2023 to continue to grow the organization,” said Lang, who added that the Atlanta Regional Commission forecasts that nearly 500,000 people will move to Gwinnett County in the next two decades. “We would like to be blessing to those people who are poor and uninsured as the county continues to grow.

“We hope in 2023 there will be enough recovery , not only in our patients but in the people who donate to us, that we would be able to buy another building in Gwinnett County that is underserved and continue to increase the size of our organization.”

For more information on Good Samaritan Health Centers of Gwinnett, visit www.goodsamgwinnett.org.

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