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Macon Health to offer primary care to limited number of residents

fr maconhealthA new program will enable a limited number of Macon County residents to seek primary medical care at the health department beginning this fall.

According to Jimmy Villiard, personal health section administrator for the health department, the health department is trying to fill the need for more primary physicians in the region by offering this new program for Macon County residents who qualify. 

“Even though we will be limited to the number of clients we can accept into these services, we hope to improve the number of Macon County residents that are able to establish a medical home,” Villiard said. 

Those who meet the following criteria are eligible to receive primary medical services at the health department: women of childbearing age without a primary medical home, uncomplicated primary care patients and Macon Citizen Habilities patients. 

Villiard said the program would initially be able to accept about 200 patients and a majority of them will be between the ages of 21 and 59. The age restrictions don’t apply to family planning patients, MCH patients and those enrolled in the county’s insurance plan who are 21 or older. 

When the program is ready to launch, patients will complete application paperwork and be screened to ensure that their current health conditions are within the scope of services that can be offered at the health department. Villiard said patients with long-term chronic pain management issues would not be able to enroll due to the complexity of proper management.

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The new program will also help cut health care costs by keeping patients from unnecessarily going to the emergency room for care. 

“Many residents that are unable to receive services in a timely manner end up in emergency rooms, costing the community valuable health care dollars,” Villiard said. “Our goal is to help manage these patients and their health conditions resulting in better long term health outcomes.”

The health department isn’t trying to compete with private primary care facilities in the area, but a majority of local primary care physicians aren’t able to take on any more patients right now. Villiard said the new program fits into the health department’s current mission to link people to needed personal health services and ensure the provision of health care when otherwise unavailable. 

He said many people with health insurance are currently unable to find a physician who is able to take on new patients. Even if they can find a doctor taking new patients, they might have to drive an hour to get there. Driving that far can also prevent people from going to see a doctor when they need to, which can lead to more serious medical issues. 

“Macon County Public Health is trying to help fill a need in the community,” Villiard said. “Primary health care results in better health outcomes, reduced health disparities and lower spending, including on avoidable emergency room visits and hospital care.”

Villiard said the program would hopefully be self-sustained by the revenue it generates because the health department will be using existing health department staff. The current physician on staff will ideally spend about 40 percent of his time with primary care patients while a staff nurse practitioner will spend about 20 percent of his or her time with the new patients. 

“The actual cost of the program is hard to determine,” he said. “We will be limiting the number of patients enrolled to not negatively impact other health department services.”

Services will be offered Monday through Friday during normal health department hours, but patients will need to make an appointment. Primary care is the day-to-day health care given by a health care provider who is often the first contact for patients. Primary care physicians and staff coordinate other specialist care that the patient may need. 

“The primary care services will address a wide variety of illnesses — acute medical illnesses such as common colds, sinus infections, stomach problems and skin rashes for example — but also more chronic health problems like acne, asthma, high blood pressure and allergies,” Villiard said.

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