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A newly renovated space in the heart of downtown Columbus will serve as a model to deliver health care services in new ways, say Columbus Regional Health leaders.
The WellConnect clinic, set to open Thursday at Third and Washington streets, evolved from discussions with focus groups and online surveys, primarily from the growing number of people who live and work in the downtown area — the target group for the center, CRH officials said.
The ground-floor center will be across from the Bartholomew County Courthouse and The Commons.
WellConnect will have:
A care center for minor illnesses and immunizations, staffed by a nurse practitioner, physician assistant and three medical assistants.
Class space for fitness, cooking and health education classes.
An area where residents can go to have questions answered on matters of health and wellness and be connected to resources and services.
“We’ve been trying to think innovatively, and this is one of those ways,” Columbus Regional Health CEO Jim Bickel said of the approach that combines a clinic, wellness activities and health care information.
The 4,700-square-foot office space is being leased by CRH from Southeastern Indiana Health Organization. The hospital’s investment in the remodeling project was $940,000.
Creating WellConnect began about 2½ years ago during CRH strategic planning and included a focus on the customer, said Kurt Ellis, CRH vice president of health system operations.
“We observed the downtown growth and looked at how we could better serve the downtown area,” Ellis said.
WellConnect is not modeled after any other health care facility in the country, Bickel said.
CRH leaders gathered best-practice ideas from inside and outside the health care industry in developing the design while having local residents help identify the role for the WellConnect facility.
It will be different than the CRH wellness center at Mill Race Center, which offers fitness classes and rehabilitation services. One of the ways WellConnect will be different is that it will offer a care clinic, staffed by medical professionals.
When talking with members of the focus groups, residents often mentioned they were frustrated with the health care system in general, Bickel said. Issues raised included hours that didn’t match with their work schedules and environments that were intimidating, Bickel said.
Some ideas that grew out of the focus groups and surveys included longer hours — 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday — and designing the space so it feels more welcoming.
When entering the WellConnect lobby, residents will find brightly colored chairs and sofas, small tables and a coffeemaker.
Ellis said the design purposefully left out a receptionist’s or information desk to create a less-formal setting to put people more at ease.
Hospital leaders said they gave consideration that the building was in the middle
of an area with historic buildings and the Columbus Arts District.
“We tried to keep the exterior integrity so it would complement downtown,” Bickel said.
Outside, large glass windows and doors face the busy intersection and lead into the lobby where CRH will work with the Columbus Museum of Arts & Design to have a rotating arts display every six months. The first artist featured is Elizabeth Busey.
Karen Shrode, executive director of the Columbus Area Arts Council, likes the arts touch to a healing environment, and also having a medical care center downtown.
“It will be a welcome addition to have that level of convenience downtown,” said Shrode, who also appreciates that she can stop in if she has a sore throat, to ask health care questions or take a fitness class.
“I like the whole aspect of the holistic approach to wellness,” Shrode said.
Creating a comfortable setting was a priority when creating the care center, CRH leaders said.
The care center includes four exam rooms, including heated exam chairs, soft music and iPads for patients to use while waiting.
“We tried to make it as comfortable as possible,” said Marsha Rieckers, CRH business development manager.
Bickel said the center was designed for minor illnesses, similar to what might be treated at a pharmacy clinic rather than an immediate-care clinic such as PromptMed.
The focus groups and surveys also found that many of the workers downtown were looking for travel medicine needs, such as immunizations.
The center will serve patients on a walk-in basis and will accept most insurance plans.
Bickel said if the illness or injury is a type the clinic is not equipped to handle, the staff will make arrangements to have the person cared for at another facility.
WellConnect is one of two new health care initiatives that will bring more medical services to the downtown area.
The CRH facility, however, is different than the type of facility planned by Franciscan St. Francis Health, which plans to open a family practice physician’s office at 123 Second St., in the former location of the Columbus Goodyear Tire building.
St. Francis spokesman Joe Stuteville said by email Monday that the opening date, originally planned for summer 2013, has been changed to July or August 2014.
Bickel said WellConnect’s opening was not planned in response to St. Francis’ announced move into the Columbus market, made in late January of this year.
“This is totally different,” Bickel said.
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