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Clinic looks for new home once site sold

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The Volunteers in Medicine clinic will look for a new home under a series of moves designed to give the free clinic a clear focus on future community health needs.

The city of Columbus has agreed to sell the clinic property at 836 Jackson St. for $200,000 to the Columbus Regional Health Foundation, the funding agency for the nonprofit clinic.

The city has owned the property since September 2000 and has rented the building to the clinic for a nominal monthly fee.

Clinic operators would like to find a buyer willing to pay to relocate its operations to a new location that would better position Volunteers in Medicine to meet its future needs, clinic and hospital foundation officials said.

Cummins Inc., whose headquarters is on the next block south, has been buying neighboring properties to the clinic and announced that it intends to build a wellness clinic in the block where the clinic is located.

A Cummins representative acknowledged that the company is in negotiations to purchase the clinic property.

Serving 1,200 patients

Volunteers in Medicine provides free care to uninsured and indigent patients through the volunteer services of local doctors and nurses. It serves about 1,200 patients.

Mary Ferdon, the clinic’s executive director, said the clinic hopes to have a new location by next summer.

“This is our next step,” she said. “This is going to give us some control over what we are going to look like and where we will be for the next five to 10 years.”

She said the clinic wants to find a location that is at least as big as its current 5,100-square-foot clinic. Clinic operators also want to be located close to the central Columbus population it primarily serves.

Ideally, the new location would be near a bus line, but Ferdon said she is confident the city would work with the clinic to provide public transportation to the new facility when it is chosen.

“We are not going to move until we have a viable space that works well for our current operations,” Ferdon said.

Uninterrupted service

The clinic also is making plans so that it will not be closed during a move and that its patients will have access to their prescription medications during the transition, she said.

“There will never be a stoppage of services,” Ferdon said. “We will make sure that patients will be taken care of in the move.”

Ferdon said the clinic is preparing for a future where it provides more chronic disease management, more acute primary care and more case management services required under the federal health care law.

Julie Abedian, president of the Columbus Regional Health Foundation, said the clinic originally grew out of the hospital’s Healthy Community initiatives. Since its conception, the foundation has been the funding source for the clinic, so the medical professionals can concentrate on their work delivering care.

“We are always interested in doing everything we can to make sure the clinic remains viable,” Abedian said.

The foundation has entertained offers in the past to purchase the clinic space but always has insisted that the purchaser make the clinic whole in a new location.

“We know that moving VIM would be an expensive proposition,” she said.

Abedian said the goal will be to find a space for the clinic that is flexible enough to meet the future needs, which still are evolving.

She said the clinic will work with the hospital to find a suitable new location.

Property appraisal

Mayor Kristen Brown said the city was not required to get appraisals, because it was selling the property to the nonprofit foundation, but did so anyway. Appraisals ranged from $550,000 to $585,000, but only if the property were cleared.

When the building was purchased, Volunteers in Medicine was granted a 30-year lease at only $100 a month in rent. With 17 years remaining on that lease, the $200,000 purchase price was a fair value, Brown said.

Brown said that the low rent recognized the important service that VIM provides to those unable to afford medical insurance and care. Although the city did not maintain the building, city crews did plow the parking lot during snowstorms, Brown said.

Money from the purchase will go to the city’s general fund, Brown and City Attorney Jeff Logston said.

“It is a win-win. The hospital foundation and Volunteers in Medicine will have more control and flexibility,” Brown said. “For us, it is one less property we are a landlord of, and we can add a couple of hundred thousand dollars to our cash reserves.”

The city also owns the properties occupied by Eastside Community Center and Children Inc.

Logston said the Board of Public Works and Safety approved the property transfer to the hospital foundation at its Nov. 26 meeting, but the final closing details still are being worked out.

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