Little Rock Director Doris Wright announced the opening of the West Central Health Clinic near the existing West Central Community Center on Thursday to an enthusiastic crowd of residents. A collaboration with Healthy Connections Inc., the clinic will provide all members of the community with medical care, as well as mental health services. The clinic will officially start seeing patients on Monday.
Wright said she initially questioned the need for a clinic with the nearby hospitals, but then she thought about her personal experience getting care, and how she didn’t like taking the yearly trip to Baptist Health. She said that God spoke to her and showed her that this was exactly why there’s a need for a clinic in the community.
The CEO for Healthy Connections, Tony Calandro said that the clinic will be the place to determine if advanced care needs to be done at a hospital. For example, if a community member thought they broke a bone, the clinic would be a good first stop.
The site has three exam rooms, a full functioning lab to run strep throat, flu, COVID-19 and urine tests. Counseling services are available as well. Once the refrigerator in the lab is regulated, the clinic will also administer vaccinations. Calandro said eventually, the goal is to also have on-site mobile dental unit.
“Years ago, mental health issues were a stigma,” Wright said. “Nobody wanted to talk about it; people hid behind a mask while they were suffering. Kids need help. Parents need help. We will have behavioral health counseling here for our families, our students and seniors.”
Calandro said that the clinic took several months of work to develop a plan that provided health access for the benefit of the entire surrounding community. One benefit to the location of the clinic is that children who utilize the community center’s after-school programs will be nearby if they need care.
Calandro said that kids will be able to visit the clinic without their guardian present, so long as the parent submits a consent form. If a kid comes in and doesn’t have one filled out, Calandro said a phone call to the guardian can fix that.
As a federally qualified health care center, Calandro said they can operate with a “sliding fee scale,” which can help folks pay for medical attention. “We don’t know everybody’s circumstances,” he said. “We take it on a case-by-case basis. We’re here in the community obviously to care for everyone, whether they can or can’t, or whether they do or don’t have insurance.”
The clinic will accept most health insurance, including Medicaid, Medicare and ARKids First.
The ribbon cutting event also served as a fall festival of sorts. It had free food, celebratory cake and one of those bouncy house obstacle course things, which the older kids were racing each other through.
Wright shouted out many members of the crowd who had a role in the clinic, including Leland Couch, director of the city’s park department and her fellow city board members who were in attendance, Capi Peck, Dean Kumpuris and Kathy Webb. She said that without building partnerships with others, the needs in the community would not be met.
Eric Luster, a psychiatric nurse practitioner who will work in the new clinic, spoke positively about the services that will be provided. He said the clinic is “wonderful” and should promote growth in the community.
With an election ahead and dozens of community members present, Wright also seemed to use her talking time for a mini community update. She spoke about keeping the youth away from drugs and smoking through sports programs that she plans to coordinate, a ride service focused in the John Barrow community and efforts to combat food deserts in Ward 6.