NORMAN — When the staff of Health for Friends Women and Children’s Center officially opened its doors on Nov. 12, they knew that this was just the beginning.
“It’s been a wonderful journey that we are continuing on. I can’t wait to see the waiting room packed with kids.” Brian Karnes, CEO of Health for Friends, said. “It’s such a huge step, I don’t know if it’s really sunk in yet that we’ve made it here.”
Health for Friends, a non-profit medical clinic for low-income families that has been in operation for more than 27 years, opened the clinic to the community in hopes to provide an alternative medical facility.
“We’re not just urgent care, we want to be the long-term provider,” Karnes said.
The 3,000 square foot same day clinic has four pediatric rooms, all which will have different themes. The clinic will provide wellness exams to women and children. The pediatric clinic offers everything that a pediatrician’s office would offer for newborns to age 18, including sports physicals, well child checks and vaccinations.
The clinic has been in the works for about a year when the Health for Friends board and management team came together to look at services that were lacking in Norman for the uninsured, and for those that were on Medicare and Medicaid.
“The pediatric clinic was one that kept coming up. We decided to start looking for a facility because our original offices were completely full with all the services that we have there. So we knew we couldn’t expand there. We looked for another site that we all could move into, but there is just not that kind of space,” Karnes said.
In May, the space at 1124 N. Porter Ave. was rented by Health for Friends and the building of its staff began.
“What we kept hearing is that there is a limited number of physicians that were seeing kids that were uninsured, but kids also that were on Medicaid. We kept hearing also from staff at Norman Regional that a lot of kids that were born there were on SoonerCare and they didn’t have a place to send them for that first follow-up visit,” Karnes said. “For some of them, they are going across the street to the emergency room and using that as their well child check for sniffles and coughs.”
The clinic, which Karnes said is offered to all income levels, also will accept patients from the Blanchard, Noble, Purcell and south Oklahoma City areas.
If patients are under the 200 percent poverty level, then the clinic puts the office copay on a sliding scale.
“People don’t really understand non-profit community health centers because we haven’t had one. Even though we’ve been around for 27 years, people are used to us to just serving the homeless. But now, we are non-profit, so if someone were to come in and pay the full rate, it would be less. The money goes back into serving Norman. We’re helping kids who go to schools with their kids, who go to our churches, who shop at our stores. The healthier we can keep workers and shoppers and school kids, that’s in everybody’s best interest,” said Lisa Schmidt, Heath for Friends fund development manager.
The clinic will take insured patients, but its main focus is going to be on the uninsured, Medicaid, and SoonerCare patients.
“Just because we’ve seen they are underserved and also the state government and federal government have run reports that show our area, right here, that we’re deemed a medically under served area for those populations,” Karnes said.
Serving as the supervising physician for the clinic is Dr. Don Wilber, who also was instrumental in allowing the clinic to open.
“From the beginning, with me, it has always been what can we do to better serve the community that we can see more patients? But see more patients in a way that we can get people in and get them healthy, not generate revenue,” Karnes said.
But the opening of the Health for Friends Womens and Children’s Center is just the beginning. Karnes is hopeful of future plans to offer a qualified health center and add more services to the area.
“We have this today, but in the future we are looking to add in optometry, on-site diagnostic imaging and labs, a dietitian,” Karnes said. “I want to build a large facility that houses all of these services in one spot. Along with on-site daycare for single parents that can’t find someone to watch their kid. You don’t want them holding onto a kid while they are getting a root canal. And looking at adding more on-site services for our aging population, also.”
Clinic hours are from 8:30 a.m. - 5 p.m. Monday-Thursday and from 8:30 a.m. -noon on Friday. The clinic closes for lunch from noon-1 p.m. To make an appointment, call 701-1804.
A ribbon cutting and open house for the Women and Children’s Center will be from 4-6 p.m. on Dec. 13.