Paoli-based Southern Indiana Community Health Care announced Thursday plans to open new locations in the Lawrence County cities of Bedford and Mitchell. The organization says the new clinics will provide obstetrics (OB) and family primary care services to the communities following the closures of Ascension Dunn Hospital in Bedford and nine Ascension Medical Group practices in the county.
“We were at a place where we felt like if we could support [patients] in any way we could, it would be a really helpful thing to do,” said SICHC Chief Medical Officer Dr. Yolanda Yoder.
In an interview with Inside INdiana Business, Yoder said with the Ascension closures, there was a particular concern for a loss of OB services.
“That especially was a huge hit to the community to lose their only delivery location there, and since we do deliveries down here, we thought it would be a helpful thing to provide a space for women who needed a place to go,” she said.
Yoder added keeping prenatal care in a local community is critical in order to help women get the care they need without having to worry about traveling long distances.
“Transportation is a big thing, and it has major implications for whether or not they get the care and then the health of the pregnancy.”
Inside INdiana Business reported in October that Ascension had planned to close the Bedford hospital and Lawrence County medical group practices by Dec. 16. More than 130 employees are being affected by the closures.
Katarina Koch, director of grants and special projects for SICHC, says as a Federally Qualified Health Center, the organization is meant to be a safety net for vulnerable populations.
“There’s nothing quote more vulnerable than people losing their healthcare due to a closure,” Koch said. “So, the decision to move into Lawrence County was very much in line with our mission and our goals.”
Five former Ascension providers are joining Southern Indiana Community Health Care to continue providing services in the communities, including one physician and three family nurse practitioners (FNP) in Bedford, and one FNP in Mitchell, who will be joined by another from the SICHC system.
SICHC says the Lawrence County providers will offer local prenatal care for pregnant mothers, who iwll then have the option to continue with a SICHC provider and deliver their baby at the nearby IU Health Paoli Hospital, or they can be transferred to and IU Health provider in Bloomington or a Schneck provider in Seymour for delivery.
The organization says patients will have the option to return and see SICHC providers locally for postpartum and well-baby and well-mother services.
Koch says the organization is receiving assistance from the state to help with the expansion.
“We have a grant with the Indiana State Department of Health to put advanced practice nurses in areas where there is no obstetrics care,” she said. “Because of this shift in Lawrence County, they’ve allowed us to allocate some of those funds to the prenatal care that we’re going to be providing in Lawrence County.”
The providers in Bedford and Mitchell will also offer traditional family primary care services to help residents address multiple health challenges, including chronic and long-term disease care, diabetes, heart issues, and treatment of injuries.
Yoder says it will take some time to get everything up and running, particularly when it comes to medical records, so a specific timeline is not yet known.
“We obviously want to be prepared to help people as quickly as possible, but we also need to be prepared to do it safely,” she said. “And that will mean putting all hands on deck to try to get those electronic records set up with new charts. So, we really are hopeful the community can kind of balance the need for us to be open quickly with giving us time.”
SICHC says former Dunn Hospital patients who want to continue their medical care locally with the organization will need to complete a medical records release, which can be found here.
Looking forward, Yoder says the organization also wants to increase behavioral health care in the county.
“We down here in Paoli and our other offices have brought in behavioral health and find that the integration has been really game changing for people [by] decreasing stigma,” she said.
SICHC also has locations in the Indiana communities of West Baden, English, Salem, Marengo, Shoals.