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Georgia Highlands Medical Services celebrates National Health Centers Week
Rob Woodall
Several elected officials were on hand this week at Georgia Highlands Medical Services as part of a legislative luncheon supporting National Health Center Week, including Rep. Rob Woodall. - photo by Kelly Whitmire

This week, elected and healthcare officials met to celebrate a unique form of healthcare that can be important to patients with financial issues.  

Georgia Highlands Medical Services welcomed speakers, and Cumming Mayor Troy Brumbalow signed a special proclamation as part of an event to celebrate National Health Centers Week.

Daniel Hawkins, senior vice president of public policy for the Washington, D.C.-based National Association of Community Health Centers, flew into town to talk about the need for such centers.

“Just because it is healthcare for the poor, and not just for the poor but especially for the poor, doesn’t mean that it’s poor healthcare,” Hawkins said.

CEO Todd Shifflet said the group has been in Forsyth County since 1979, first as George E. Wilson Memorial Health Services, and has a core mission to “provide healthcare to those who have nowhere else to go.”

He said the number of patients served is increasing.

“In 2015, we had 13,317 patients,” Shifflet said. “As of July 2018, we’re at 18,250 patients, so that’s miraculous growth in my opinion, but there is a lot to do.”

Shifflet described community health centers as private, non-profit organizations that charge on a sliding scale depending on the needs of patients. About half of the local facility’s patients were uninsured. He said many of the board members were also patients.

“It does two things,” he said. “It keeps us community-based, and it keeps us grounded.”

Community Outreach Coordinator Charity McDaniel recalled her own experience with GMRC.

When she was a child, her mother worked at the facility, where her family also received health insurance and used the service as an adult when a clerical error kicked her off her husband’s insurance.

“The day after I learned that I was not in fact on his plan, I found out that I was expecting,” McDaniel said. “Because pregnancy is considered a pre-existing condition, I was uninsurable.”

McDaniel said typical prenatal and hospital costs are more than $30,000 for uninsured patients but through GMRS she received care “without taking out tens of thousands of dollars in loans.” She said she began working with the group after her daughter’s first birthday.

Rep. Rob Woodall, who represents portions of Forsyth and Gwinnett counties, said health centers provide care “better than anyone else” and described the centers as “one of the unique areas where the federal government actually plays some positive role in what goes on.”

He said it also gives him standing during discussions with those across the aisle at the Capitol.

“I am a Republican and I get pigeonholed in that space when I talk about public policy in Washington, D.C. It’s hard to build a bridge with a California Democrat in many cases because I don’t have any credibility on that,” Woodall said, “until I start telling Georgia Highlands’ story, until I start talking about the amazing people in our community that put in service above self and what they’re doing. Then, we’re talking about what more we will still need to do, and now I’ve got a conversation I can have.”