Monday, March 30, 2009

TOP STORY >> Loss of doctors would hurt many seniors

Leader staff writer

If physicians in the Jacksonville Medical Clinic move out of town to save on rent that will be a big problem for seniors who are their patients.

Christy McMillion, director of the Jackson-ville Senior Center, was distraught when she heard the news that the 10 family-practice physicians at the clinic are may move to Sherwood because of a recent rent hike.

“My concern for the seniors is that they will have issues because a lot of them don’t drive or those who do, drive a limited path within the city of limits of Jacksonville,” McMillion said. “It would be detrimental for them (the doctors) to leave. I hope to see it get worked out. I would hate to see them leave the building.”

Leaving the facility next door to North Metro Medical Center, where they have practiced for more than 10 years, is just one option being considered by the doctors after the rent doubled at the first of the year.

They are eyeing clinic space at St. Vincent North in Sherwood and are also seeking a second appraisal on their current building, which is owned by the city of Jacksonville and also owns the hospital building. The new rent rate is based on an appraisal which the physicians had done, in hopes of challenging a rent increase by hospital management last year. Instead, the appraisal only validated the decision by the hospital. By law, hospitals are required to rent space according to their market value.

The center provides transportation for seniors to and from doctors appointments, but if the Jacksonville Medical Clinic closes and the doctors relocate to Sherwood, the senior center could not provide transportation that distance, McMillion said.

“It is not just the money, but the time,” she explained, and would be difficult to work out, because the center’s van drivers get off work at 3 p.m., she said.

McMillion said that the center transports about “a handful – about six” individuals – regularly to the clinic. But she is also concerned about the Jacksonville seniors who use coupons to pay for cab service to get them to where they need to go.

“The coupons are strictly for Jacksonville use, so this would be affecting many seniors,” she explained.

On the other hand, Lois Cavin, the administrator of Greenbriar Retirement Center on Graham Road, did not foresee the possible clinic closure as a big problem for the center’s 16 residents when they need a doctor.

“I or a family member take them, and it’s not that much further from here to Sherwood,” Cavin said.

If the Jacksonville Medical Center closes and the doctors group moves away, that would more than halve the number of family-practice physicians in Jacksonville.

The 10 physicians whose practices comprise the Jacksonville Medical Center are J. Dale Calhoon, Richard Hayes, Aniel House, Alan Johnston, Miriam Moore, Robert Ritchie, Harold Short, Alan Storeygard, Phillip Tracy and Michael Waterhouse.

The physicians at Cabot Medical Center are also deliberating their next move, after a similar chain of events that occurred when North Metro announced the rent would go up, triggering the decision by the group to have the clinic building appraised. They have offered to purchase the building from the city of Jacksonville, but the parties have not reached an agreement on price.

The city says it is worth $4.9 million; the doctors contend it is worth $4.5 million. If they can’t agree, the doctors are considering constructing their own building. The doctors who comprise the Cabot Medical Center are Ruth Ann Blair, Deborah Cerrato, Jason Merrick, Susanne Robertson, Joseph Shotts and Jeffrey Stamp.

Before the rent increase, the Jacksonville doctors had been paying $135,000 in annual rent, but they also paid for maintenance, repairs and cleaning.

The rent increase from $5 to $17 per square foot brings their rent to $459,000 a year, but will include all services to maintain the building. St. Vincent Medical Center/North in Sherwood has offered the Jacksonville doctors $14 a square foot, which would save them about $100,000 a year.