The Community Health Connection is hustling to open a primary-care clinic before classes start at an elementary school-based location in east Tulsa that recently was shuttered by OU Physicians-Tulsa.
Jim McCarthy, CEO of Community Health Connection, said he has hired a new medical provider for the Rosa Parks Elementary School site who will start Aug. 8. Patient scheduling probably will begin the following week, he said.
“This is not a typical situation,” McCarthy said. “I would like not to do this at this speed again, but it’s the right thing to do, and we want to make it happen.”
The OU Physicians-Tulsa Community Health Clinics at Rosa Parks and Roy Clark Elementary schools — which served under- and uninsured patients — closed June 30. McCarthy said he saw a Tulsa World article about the closures in May and got in contact with Union Public Schools.
Within 48 hours, he and Superintendent Kirt Hartzler were walking through the facility at Rosa Parks, which is attached to the elementary school, to see what might be possible. Typically, it’s a six-month turnaround from idea to implementation — not half that, McCarthy said.
“We love a challenge here,” McCarthy said. “And all the research says that if you can be there for the opening of the school year and participate in the early activities at the school where the parents are available, that’s very helpful.”
In a statement to the Tulsa World, OU-Tulsa cited under-utilization of the clinics for its decision to close them. Rosa Parks Principal Jackie DuPont disagreed, saying they were at about 70% capacity — “a pretty good number.”
School officials and families expressed concern that many east Tulsa patients would be without convenient access to affordable and quality health care. The two clinics were a collaboration since 2003 to provide affordable health care to about 14,000 indigent and under-served individuals in Tulsa County, according to Union Public Schools.
The new Community Health Connection clinic will operate five days a week instead of the part-time schedule OU-Tulsa maintained, but only at Rosa Parks and not at Roy Clark. McCarthy said CHC already has more than 600 patients in the Rosa Parks ZIP code and will work with Union to spread the word at Roy Clark, a 10-minute drive away.
The clinic is on Rosa Park’s campus, but, as with the previous one, will be available for the entire community, McCarthy said.
“It is a very similar set up for the uninsured and under-insured,” he said, explaining that a sliding scale for fees will be based on household income and number of occupants.
He noted that CHC has an in-house pharmacy at a location near Third Street and Lewis Avenue that can provide “deeply discounted prescriptions.”
For example, he said, an uninsured diabetic person can pay in excess of $300 a month for insulin. “But we sell the exact same thing to our patients for $15 a month,” McCarthy said.
For $5, prescriptions can be delivered to homes, he said.
In addition to the pharmacy, Community Health Connection’s Kendall-Whittier location, at 2321 E. Third St., provides medical, dental and behavioral health services. It also has a facility on Tulsa’s east side, at 9912 E. 21st St., that offers medical and behavioral health services.
The federally qualified health center also will open a clinic at Union’s Ellen Ochoa Elementary School in February 2020. The project is underwritten by nearly $10 million in voter-approved Vision Tulsa funds.
“We’re just as pleased as we could be with the Union Public Schools partnership,” McCarthy said.
CHC says 80% of its clinical and dental staff are bilingual, meeting a concern raised by school officials and families after OU-Tulsa’s announced departure. DuPont said about 60% of Rosa Parks students speak Spanish as a first language.
She said she is overjoyed that CHC will be able to help take care of her students. Union’s community school model focuses on meeting the needs of the whole child and family, she said.
“It allows kids to come to school ready to learn because their basic health needs are met,” DuPont said.
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