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Health center expands service

July 12, 2007|By TAMELA BAKER

HAGERSTOWN - The Walnut Street Community Health Center has undergone some major transitions this year, and the facility's staff invited the community to see the changes for themselves Wednesday.

The center provides care for people who participate in federal Medicare and Medicaid programs or who have no insurance, as well as those who have private insurance. To accommodate its expanding dental practice, the center has added two dental examining rooms. And rather than having separate waiting rooms for its dental and family medical care divisions, the center has created a new shared reception area.

But the changes aren't all physical. Medical Director G. Johnson Koilpillai said the center added a mental health program in May. A state grant will pay for the program for three years, he said, and plans call for the program to be self-sufficient after that. So far, the program has one full-time social worker and a nurse practitioner who will come to the center once a week to manage medications. Koilpillai hopes to add another therapist next year and to expand the nurse practitioner's hours. A third therapist might be needed in the following year, he said.

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Koilpillai said the mental health program is designed to treat conditions ranging from stress to depression and anxiety to psychosis. The program operates "right next to the family practice because we want to decrease the stigma" of seeking mental health treatment, he said.

For the first three years, services will be limited to Medicare, Medicaid and uninsured patients. As is the case with the center's dental care, patients must also be patients of the family practice, which Koilpillai said offers primary care from pediatrics to geriatrics.

The mental health program helps fill what Koilpillai said is a large need in Washington County.

Access to mental health care "is difficult for the underinsured," he said. "The service is really important."

Because it's so difficult for the underinsured to get mental health care, they usually don't - until there's a crisis, he said.

The goal of the program is to prevent the crisis from occurring, he said.

Koilpillai estimated that the center sees 600 to 700 patients a week.

"Our mission is to provide comprehensive care for everybody," he said. "People need to know we're here."

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