LEWISTOWN - Residents of Mifflin and Juniata counties have a new option for health care and local public officials are touting it as a much-needed addition to the area.
Primary Health Network's Lewistown Community Health Center is the only federally qualified health care provider in the area. As such, PHN is able to better serve patients with Medicare and Medicaid and offer a sliding fee scale to uninsured or underinsured patients. That means patient bills are calculated based on their income. Most major care plans and major insurances are also accepted.
"We take anybody, regardless of their ability to pay," said Drew Pierce, PHN's chief financial officer.
Sentinel photo by BUFFIE BOYER
State Sen. Jake Corman, left, R-Bellefonte, listens to Rob Postal of Mifflin County Industrial Development Corp., Thursday as he describes the plans for the proposed Life Science Complex along Ferguson Valley Road during Corman’s visit to the Primary Health Network office in Lewistown. Drew Pierce, second from left, chief financial officer for PHN; and Don Pownell listen during the discussion.
Frank Conly, a medical doctor with 30 years of experience in family medicine and rural practice, emphasized the diversity of PHN's patient base.
"We take care of everybody from newborn to geriatric," he said.
Conly said Alicia Bray, the center's certified physician assistant, is very strong in women's health. With the closing of the Women's Health Center, which was located on North Juniata Street in Lewistown, Conly said that's important.
The center offers comprehensive services, so its patients only need to visit one office.
"We even draw bloodwork here, so they don't have to go to a different lab or building," Bray said.
Additional services include free blood pressure screenings and pregnancy tests every day. Once the center is able to maintain a large enough patient base, it also will offer transportation services to and from appointments.
Chief Executive Officer John Laeng said a common misconception PHN is facing in Lewistown is that PHN is a state health center.
"We're not," Laeng said. "We're a comprehensive health care center now. It's a family practice."
PHN was founded in 1984 and serves 11 counties in Pennsylvania and 2 in Ohio through 36 offices, about 140 physicians and more than 370 support staff, said Amber Walters, PHN's government and public relations coordinator. Walters said PHN as a whole reaches more than 106,000 patients annually.
"Our goal is to provide quality care, and we got into the community based on the needs of the people," Walters said. "We go into areas that need us - high Medicaid population areas. We get grants to provide services to those types of areas."
Lewistown and the surrounding community is one of those areas.
According to data released in December by the U.S. Census Bureau, an average of 9.7 percent of Pennsylvanians are uninsured. Mifflin County has the highest uninsured rate of 67 counties, with 16.2 percent of its residents uninsured. Juniata County is number four, with an uninsured rate of 13.5 percent.
In 2007, volunteer community leaders began forming the Mifflin-Juniata Community Health Center board.
"The MJCHC board worked tirelessly, exploring many possible avenues. The result of many years of work resulted in partnering with Primary Health Network to ensure residents of Mifflin and Juniata counties have a medical home, especially the uninsured and underinsured," said Marie Mulvihill, Executive Director of the United Way and one of the founding members of the MJCHC. "The main focus for us as a community is that if people know how to take care of themselves, they don't get sick as often or as badly. When they do need care from the health center, it's there."
The board members first met with PHN in August 2012, and PHN's Lewistown center opened its doors on Jan. 21 of this year.
"We put the patient's needs before the need for payment," Walters said. "We'll never turn a patient away. We'll do everything we can to make sure everybody gets the quality health care they deserve."
The office, located at 21 S. Brown St., Lewistown, is open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays and from 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Thursdays.
On Thursday, state Sen. Jake Corman paid a visit to the PHN office.
"The senator reached out to us," Walters said. "He was really excited that our community health center came to Lewistown."
During Corman's visit, Rob Postal, president of Mifflin County Industrial Development Corp., presented plans PHN already has for expansion.
While the information discussed is still in the tentative first stages, the idea is to build a "Life Sciences Complex" that will house PHN and other related health organizations, such as a dental clinic and a lab.
"The FQHC multiservice facility concept has been embraced as a national demonstration project by the Goldman Sachs Urban Investment Group, The Kresge Foundation, the Low Income Investment Fund, Primary Care Development Corp., Rockefeller Foundation and The Reinvestment Fund," said Don Pownell, PHN's development consultant. The building would be modeled after an existing facility in Punxsutawney.
A site along Ferguson Valley Road in Derry Township is being considered, though no official deals have been made. In addition to PHN's investment in a new building, MCIDC may use this opportunity to develop more of that land at the same time. Postal said the plot is 50 acres and PHN is considering 10 of those acres for its use. There are approximately 25 more developable acres at that location, he said.
"PHN is making a significant investment in this," Postal said, adding that the health network is still in the process of applying for funding.
As for MCIDC's role, Postal said engineering studies are being conducted to determine budgets. They should be complete within weeks, at which point MCIDC will apply for financing to provide the infrastructure - water, sewer and storm drains - between Ferguson Valley Road and the lots that would be PHN's. PHN would then be responsible for the cost of the infrastructure on the lots themselves.
Corman said he was pleased to see this focus on health care in Lewistown. The senator is a Republican who represents Mifflin, Juniata and Centre counties, as well as northern Huntingdon County.
Additional information about PHN can be obtained by calling 447-0340 or visiting their website at www.primary-health.net.