Ground was broken Thursday at Rocky Fork Lake for the new Rocky Fork Medical Center, which is set to be constructed at the corner of North Shore Drive and North Beach Road at the lake.
The clinic will be owned by Highland District Hospital and staffed by Highland Health Providers, officials said.
Randy Lennartz, chief executive officer of Highland District Hospital, described the event as a “celebration.”
“This project took a lot of people,” he told a crowd of nearly 100 people at the construction site. “We’ve been talking about this project for over two years, with making the project come together and getting the providers out here, and now everything has come together as we go forward and provide these services to the people at Rocky Fork Lake.”
Lennartz recognized some of the people who had a large part in getting the medical center to the lake.
In attendance at the groundbreaking were county commissioners Gary Abernathy, Jeff Duncan and Terry Britton, Teresa Lewis from Congressman Brad Wenstrup’s office, Highland Health Providers staff, the Highland District Hospital board of directors and others. Lennartz also gave special mention to Larry and Terry Roberts, who donated the land for the facility. He thanked the Roberts for not only donating the land, but making sure the donated real estate would be large enough to accommodate future expansion.
Marsha Mitchell, one of two certified nurse practitioners that will staff the new medical facility, said at the groundbreaking that the target for opening the clinic is March 2019.
“We’re not putting a definite date on it yet until we see more of the building start coming up,” she said. “We would be excited to be in there as soon as we can, but right now they’re telling us around March.”
Mitchell told The Times-Gazette that the new center is much needed for Rocky Fork Lake and the surrounding communities.
“There was a demographics study that showed there were around 5,000 people within a five-mile radius,” she said. “And in the summer when the campgrounds are in full use, that number jumps to around 8,000.”
Pam Knisley is also a certified nurse practitioner, and in that capacity, like Mitchell, she holds the title of advanced practice registered nurse and is educated on the masters and doctoral level. She has been practicing at Highland Family Health Care since 2012 and joined Highland Health Providers last March.
“As a CNP, Marsha and I are able to see patients,” she said, “and we’re able to render a diagnosis and recommend treatments, even write prescriptions if necessary.”
Dr. Julie Karnes, chief of staff at Highland District Hospital, pointed out that the new Rocky Fork Medical Center will not be a “band-aid station,” but a full-fledged, fully staffed state-of-the-art medical services provider.
“It will be a total medical facility that will include multiple exam rooms with two full-time providers Monday through Saturday, and even a procedure room for minor medical procedures for walk-in patients as the lake population increases in the summer months,” she said.
Karnes emphasized that the new clinic will be equipped to handle all patients “from newborn to geriatrics,” including managing chronic conditions, acute illness and physical examinations for school and work.
It’s all a part of Highland District Hospital’s master plan of bringing better medical care to the region and enhancing its presence in the lake area, officials said. Highland District Hospital is currently in the midst of a $21.5 million two-year renovation with a projected completion date of summer 2020.
“It is a part of a grand scheme because we want to have a greater presence in every part of the county,” Karnes said. “That way we can continue to provide quality medical care to all of our county residents.”
Mandy Warix, executive director of Highland Health Providers and supervisor at practices in Greenfield, Lynchburg, Hillsboro and the new Rocky Fork Lake facility, echoed Karnes’ belief that the new center is sorely needed.
“It’s extremely important since we’ll be providing care to a community that doesn’t have local access to care,” she said. “If they have transportation issues, we’ll have local providers here and some extended hours on the weekend as well.”
Marix said her organization is part of a federally qualified health center which helps to assist medically under-served areas like the lake region. She added that they offer help to patients with no insurance coverage through a sliding fee scale, and other programs as well.
“We will have same-day acute appointments,” she said, “but we’ll also do family wellness, well-child visits, labwork and everything that one would see in a primary care office.”
Representatives from the Rocky Fork Lake Community Alliance were at the groundbreaking and overwhelmingly voiced their support for the new medical center.
“It’s great and we love it,” Lori Morris said. “A lot of people have put in a lot of hard work and we’re looking forward to having these services here, and we’ve needed them for some time.”
“I think this is wonderful,” Sue Thornhill said, “because the lake needs the growth and there are a lot of people out here that will use it… I’m so pleased to see things developing here at the lake.”
Lennartz will be the guest speaker at the Rocky Fork Lake Community Alliance’s October meeting on the evening of Thursday, Oct. 18. The Highland County Commissioners will speak before the group and give an update on the Rocky Fork Lake grant project at the organization’s November meeting.
Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-4271