Florida Keys News
Wednesday, March 5, 2014
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New federally funded health center opens

Citing a need for quality, affordable and convenient health care in the Upper Keys, the nonprofit Community Health of South Florida, Inc. (CHI), has opened a new, federally qualified health center in Tavernier.

The new facility, located in the Tavernier Towne Shopping Center, came to life Tuesday during a grand opening celebration that featured a Fat Tuesday/Mardi Gras theme with food, live music and kids' activities.

"The Tavernier Health Center is a place where everyone can have access to high-quality medical care," said Col. Brodes Hartley, CHI president and CEO. "We welcome the insured and the uninsured to make us their medical home."

The Tavernier Health Center will offer primary care, pediatrics, OB-GYN services and mental health care. Free transportation to and from the center will be available.

The opening of the center brings the number of CHI-operated health centers in the Keys to two. The other center, the CHI Marathon Health Center, is located at 2855 Overseas Highway at Mile Marker 48.5.

The Marathon location opened in 2007, and CHI immediately set about looking into establishing an Upper Keys location.

An operating grant of $650,000 for the Tavernier center was awarded to CHI on Oct. 30, 2013. The grant will automatically renew every year, as long as the center remains open and providing services to the public.

A third, non-CHI run federally qualified center, the Lower Keys Community Health Center, opened in late 2012 on the second floor of dePoo Hospital in Key West.

In a nutshell, "federally qualified" denotes an organization that qualifies for federal funding by proving that it can provide cradle-to-grave medical services, either by itself, or through referrals.

"We've been looking at doing this for a couple of years now," said Tiffani Helberg, the Miami-based vice president of communications and development. "There's a great need here for health care where both the insured and uninsured can get a variety of health care services. It's also very important to us that we be able to provide transportation to and from the center. Our nonprofit was established over 40 years ago to eliminate barriers between people and quality health care, regardless of their insurance status. We now number 10 such centers throughout South Florida."

Tavernier and its environs are considered to be a medically underserved area, by the federal Health Resources and Services Administration. The Florida Department of Health identified nearly half the local population as being uninsured, with limited accessibility to medical care. On that basis, CHI applied for, and received, federal grant money to bring the center to life.

The organization has also received federal funds to assist residents in navigating the government marketplace for health insurance, under the Affordable Care Act, aka "Obamacare."

"We started with a $600,000 grant to do outreach and enrollment and they added another $200,000 a few months later to hire staff and open satellite sites, working out of other locations that are neutral territory throughout Monroe and Miami-Dade counties," Helberg said. "There is now a place in every neighborhood where clients can go to get enrolled under the ACA."

Chris Tittel, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Health in Monroe County, welcomed the news of the new center's opening.

"We're really glad that people with health care needs in the Upper Keys, particularly people with low or no income, now have a patient-centered medical home that they can go to for the services that they need," Tittel said.

The Tavernier Health Center is open from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday; from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday and Fridays; and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.

The center is closed Sundays and Mondays.

For information, call 305- 743-0383, or go to www.chisouthfl.org.

tschmida@keysnews.com

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