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Appalachian clinic gets grant to keep clinics open
Clinic faced possible closure in 2010 because of budget cuts
Medical Assistant Dustin Clark prepares an examination room for another patient Tuesday afternoon at the Appalachian Nurse Practitioner Clinic on the campus of North Georgia College & State University in Dahlonega. A recent $1.8 million federal grant has kept the much used clinic open a bit longer.

The Appalachian Nurse Practitioner Clinic got a new lifeline last week. A $1.8 million federal grant will allow the main campus facility and a satellite clinic to keep their doors open.

The clinic, which is run by North Georgia College & State University in Dahlonega, faced closure in 2010 in the wake of University System of Georgia budget cuts.

"Our patients are ecstatic," said Sharon Chalmers, an associate professor in North Georgia's Master of Science Nursing Faculty. "Many of them were extremely upset when they were told this place was possibly going to close."

The clinic, with facilities located in Dahlonega and Cleveland, serves local adults who do not have insurance and would otherwise be unable to receive health care.

Thanks to the grant, North Georgia is pursuing a second satellite clinic in the area, possibly in Blairsville.

The Dahlonega clinic is open Monday through Thursday, but the Cleveland clinic is only serviced one day a week. The grant will allow the Cleveland location to be open two days a week. The clinic is a collaboration between the university and local health departments.

"They only see appointments that have been made for those that require a higher level of medical assistance than the health department usually provides," said David Westfall, health director for Georgia Public Health District 2.

Chalmers said most of the clinic's patients have chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, which require more frequent care. Nurse practitioners and students learning to be nurse practitioners get clinical hours and training taking care of patients at the facilities, said Toni Barnett, nursing department head at North Georgia.

"When we were waiting to get this grant, we had 45 people added to our waiting list, waiting to hear whether we'd get funding or not," Barnett said.

The Appalachian Nurse Practitioners Clinic is fairly unique in the medical community, Westfall said.

Residents in the seven-county service area can come to the Dahlonega or Cleveland facility even if they do not live in the city, and the demand for service is much greater than the resources, one major reason why another satellite clinic was desired.

Barnett said the clinics are attempting to be able to bill Medicare, Medicaid and some insurance so patients can continue to use the clinic even if they gain insurance. As it stands now, these patients have to find other health care providers once they obtain insurance.

"Most of the children qualify for PeachCare, but adults may not qualify for a federally funded program," Chalmers said.

The grant also gives the clinic a chance to expand its educational opportunities for patients.

An education coordinator position will be open. The coordinator's responsibilities will include hosting events to teach clinic patients more about their diseases and how they can be managed at home.

"It's in the planning stages," Chalmers said. "We have big ideas, and we hope to see a lot of things happen."