Organizers have taken the first big step to establish a Community Health Center in Porter.

The state health department has awarded $250,000 to Arkansas Verdigris Valley Health Centers, Inc., for centers in Porter and McAlester, CEO Brad Stanton said.

Stanton, who was the founding CEO at a health center in Hulbert, said he and the 11-member board in Porter hope to follow a similar growth pattern. The Hulbert center eventually qualified to become a Federally Qualified Health Center and is now known as NEOHealth.

“We plan to start as a FQHC Look-Alike,” he said. “Which means we will be open at least 32 hours a week. We will offer primary care with an emphasis on preventative medicine. Then we will go on to add dental care and an affordable pharmacy.”

Stanton said the center initially will be budgeted for four staff people. But the biggest obstacle is renovation of an unused band room owned by the Porter School District. The school board agreed this week to lease the building for $1 per month.

“We had an engineer inspect it, and it’s structurally sound,” he said.

Stanton said at one time he was part of an effort to start a CHC in Muskogee but met resistance from doctors who saw the health center as potential competition.

With no Community Health Center in Muskogee and Porter only a 20-minute drive, there is a good chance that people with limited income will be drawn to Porter once the center opens. Stanton also expects the staff to treat people from Haskell.

Steve Schinnerer, preacher at the Porter Church of Christ, said he believes the health center will be well-received.

“There are always people looking for help,” he said. “Especially the elderly. They are often in need of some help; something that is not going to cost them so much.”

Schinnerer, whose church has 140 members, said local people do a lot of driving to get health care.

“Muskogee Regional Medical Center is still the closest, but most people trek into Tulsa,” he said. “We have a need for something that is closer.”

Jim Berry, director of Business Development and Marketing at Tahlequah City Hospital, said the situation is not exactly the same as Tahlequah, but there could be similarities as the project unfolds.

“We feel that they (NEOHealth) are a good addition to the community,” he said. “We’ve seen some benefits in partnering with them on certain things, and they have taken some of the burden off our emergency room.”

For many people who visit the TCH emergency room and are whose health issues are not life-threatening, the Hulbert health center has been a good alternative.

“Our prices are higher in an emergency room; everybody knows that,” Berry said. “So it saves on resources from that standpoint, and we don’t tie up our personnel with things that are not of an emergent nature.”

Berry doesn’t think doctors in nearby communities who have been treating Porter residents should assume they will lose those patients to the new health center.

“Extended relationships between doctors and patients are very strong, and some people won’t trade that for anything.”

Reach Keith Purtell at 684-2925 or kpurtell@muskogeephoenix.com.

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