Fulton County, Georgia, is the largest county in the state of Georgia and the only one to integrate health care and wellness programs with other services offered by community and health centers for a comprehensive approach to meeting residents’ needs.
Under the leadership of Fulton County Manager Zachary Williams and the county’s Board of Commissioners, the county’s social services departments set out to identify racial, ethnic, and socio-economic factors that were creating inequities in service delivery.
Because the departments involved in the assessment included Health and Wellness, Behavioral Health, Human Services, and Housing and Community Development, they were able to look at a broad range of factors that affect community health, such as education, income, access to essential services, and physical condition of the built environment (i.e., crime and abandoned properties). The process produced a plan, called Common Ground, to transform how Fulton County provides services.
The plan recommended the expansion of existing health and community centers and the creation of new ones to coordinate essential government services with non-traditional services. “Providing integrated services under one roof allows us to apply a holistic approach to treating our clients,” said Patrice A. Harris, MD, director of Fulton County Health Services.
Common Ground recommended the expansion of the Neighborhood Union Health Center, both in size and service offerings, and the redesign of county service centers.
The Neighborhood Union Primary Care Partnership serves the Vine City area of the county, which has a median income of $20,000, an infant mortality rate twice as high as the rest of the county, and high rates of childhood asthma, HIV, chronic mental illness. Housed in a 1950s-era building, it recently underwent a $3.2 million renovation and expansion. Operated by the Fulton County Department of Health and Wellness along with the Department of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities, and Addictive Diseases, Office of Workforce Development, and the Morehouse School of Medicine, the center offers a range of services, including primary care, behavioral health, public health, case management, workforce development, and job training. The facility also provides community meeting space for use by local residents.
Community centers coordinate services
Common Ground also recommended that two community centers coordinate county services in a centralized location.
The North Fulton Community Services Center offers a wide range of services, including immunizations, health screenings, dental screening, and oral health, and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). Mental health programs and services offered include behavioral therapy, substance abuse counseling, and psychiatric assessments. In addition, the facility houses a library that offers adult and child literacy programs, workforce development, home ownership counseling, and arts programs.
The Fulton County Board of Commissioners plans to spend a total of $8 million on a recently approved land purchase to greatly expand the existing Adamsville health center into a community center. Once complete, the Adamsville community center will offer health and wellness programs, a library/resource center, a child center, workforce development services, and housing assistance. It will also be the site of a farmer’s market, walking tracks, and a public plaza with a healing garden.
Funding to support all three of these integrated facilities programs has come from the county budget, thanks to the support of elected officials, as well as from grants, including federal stimulus funding and others.
The Common Ground study was conducted in 2008 and the Neighborhood Union and North Fulton centers were opened in 2009. Data measuring the outputs and results of the centers are still being compiled.
In 2010, the Neighborhood Union Primary Care Partnership received a National Association of Counties Achievement in Health Award for its efforts to reduce health disparities by addressing the social determinants of health through interdepartmental collaboration.
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