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New clinic to diversify care
health check
Department of Community Health Rural Health Executive Director Charles Owens and local officials, Linda Ratcliffe, Deidre Michelson and Connie Thrift, hold up a enlargement of a check that has established a clinic here that they hope will become a model for other areas. - photo by Pat Watkins
Last spring, the state legislature awarded $500,000 to Liberty County as seed money to start a community health center and to submit a grant application to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for designation as a federally qualified health center.
Achieving this status would result in yearly funding and support from Medicare and Medicaid for program operations, according to Linda Ratcliffe, who works for the Coastal Health District.
The Georgia Department of Community Health, State Office of Rural Health became the official state agency overseeing the funds and contractual obligations of this project. In late June, the Liberty County Board of Health signed a contract with DCH/SORH to act as fiscal agent for the $500,000 and to exercise project oversight until a local Board could be formed that would assume responsibility for the Center.
Members of the Board of Health worked closely with Rural Health Executive Director Charles Owens and the Georgia Association of Primary Health Care to incorporate and provide the structure necessary to open the center and to back up the FQHC application. Additionally, GAPHC provided consultants to facilitate the community development and the federal grant application. This included the formation of a 15-member board  that met state and FQHC requirements for the newly named Diversity Health Center, Inc .
In late November, the board assumed responsibility for the Center and Russ Toal was named chief executive officer. He is a visiting associate professor of public health in the Institute of Public Health of Georgia State University, a distinguished fellow in health policy in the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies of GSU and a consultant to the Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion of CDC.
His career includes being the first president of the Georgia Cancer Coalition, the  first commissioner for the new Department of Community Health, president and CEO for Georgia 1st, director of corporate health services of Emory Healthcare and commissioner of the Georgia Department of Medical Assistance.
Officers of the Diversity Health Center Board are President Connie Thrift, Vice President Jon Long and Secretary Gwen Stewart. The board meets the requirements that a majority of board members be active, registered clients of the health center and representative of the populations served by the center. This will ensure that the center is community based and responsive to the community’s health care needs.
Diversity began providing primary care medical services in late November using temporary offices within the health department but renovations are underway that will house the center in another area of the Community Services Building. In addition to primary care, the center will provide behavioral health and dental care. In addition to accepting Medicare, Medicaid, private insurance and TRICARE, Diversity has a sliding fee scale with discounts based on family size and income.
Residents interested in accessing services at the center may call 876-2173 and request an appointment at the Diversity Health Center. For more information, call Toal at 656-0626 or
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