Health center provides hope for Pierce County

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by ZAHID ARAB / KING 5 News

KING5.com

Posted on December 3, 2013 at 7:14 PM

TACOMA, Wash. -- There’s already a doctor shortage in Pierce County and that shortage is likely to get worse. The Affordable care act will give some form of private or public health insurance to nearly 80,000 people by next year.

The new Hilltop Regional Health Center could help offset the spike in new patients.

“If I didn’t have these guys to fall back on when I needed them there, I wouldn’t have anything available,” said Tom Coogan, a patient.

Coogan, 51, hasn’t had health insurance for nearly seven years. He’s among the center’s first new patients. He once only relied on emergency rooms for care, which included a broken hip.

“When someone walks into the emergency room every time to take care of this or that, it clogs up the system,” he said.

The new $27 million center, which is funded by grants and foundations earmarked for low-income areas, includes a medical and dental clinic, pharmacy and urgent care under one roof.

90% of the patients the center will serve come from low income backgrounds. The hope is up to 300 people will be served each day.

“I don’t know where I would go,” said Fatma Atlig, a patient.

Community Health Care, which runs the center, expects patient volumes in Pierce County to spike 30% by next year. According to President/CEO David Flentge, that adds to an already tough problem.

“Currently, we’re over a hundred physicians short in Pierce County to meet the current needs,” said Flentge.

Doctors blame more medical school graduates choosing specialty care over primary care.

“It’s been an ongoing issue for many years,” said Dr. Ed Davila, one of the center’s 20 primary care physicians.

To help deal with the doctor shortage, the Federal Government gave $12 million to the center for a health training program. When fully operational, it will train 18 primary care providers per year. The hope is they stay and practice in Pierce County.

“It’s good to know that there’s a system in place that’s going to be a safety net that’s going to take care of you,” said Coogan.

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