Regional Medical Center plans to open an outreach center in western Anniston next year to improve the health of the poor.

Through the facility, RMC will offer free screenings and educational programs to promote healthier lifestyles and hopefully improve the overall health of the community. Some health experts say providing such types of preventive care is a good, cost-effective way to improve public health.

“Our goal is to reach out into the community, into the areas that are underserved, and address those needs,” said Louis Bass, CEO of RMC.

Bass said RMC was looking at a few sites for the center but hadn’t picked one yet.

“We are hoping to find an existing location so we don’t have to build one,” Bass said.

Bass said there is no set timetable yet for the facility, but the goal is to open it early next year. Bass added that there wasn’t yet a cost estimate for the facility, but RMC would cover the costs for the free services.

Also, existing RMC staff would be used to provide the services, he said.

While the exact services are still being decided, the plan is to provide weekly clinical services at the center, such as health screenings. RMC also would offer ongoing health education clinics and classes for diabetes and congestive heart failure. Additional services could include pre-school physicals and after-school mentoring.

A recent report shows the state is struggling with poor health among many residents. The annual report, released last week by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, states Alabama ranked second in obesity among the 50 states in 2015, up from fifth place a year earlier.

The report shows the black community accounts for the largest portion of obese people in the state at 43.2 percent.

The report also indicates that the state ranks third in adults with diabetes and with hypertension.

Dr. Jim McVay, director of the bureau of health promotion and the chronic disease bureau at the Alabama Department of Public Health, said he thought the RMC center could be beneficial to the area.

“We know that prevention is the most effective way to address chronic disease before there are consequences,” McVay said.

McVay said it’s better for patients to catch a disease like diabetes early so they can start treatments or to change habits to prevent developing diabetes in the first place.

“It’s very cost-effective for families to find out what they can do to help their family members,” McVay said.

McVay noted that low-income residents tend to be more at risk of developing a chronic disease like diabetes or hypertension.

“A lot of them can’t afford the care they need,” he said.

According to the RMC press release, hospital officials spent months working with Anniston City Councilmen Seyram Selase and David Reddick to develop a plan to improve the health of poorer residents in west Anniston. That plan became the health center.

Selase said he and the city have had an ongoing dialogue with RMC administration about improving community health since the city last year opened the Dr. David Satcher Wellness Park — a four-block-long trail for cyclists and pedestrians in west Anniston.

“The city is partnering with RMC to remedy health outcomes in west Anniston,” Selase said. “There is a commitment there on behalf of RMC, that’s the most important part of this to me.”

Reddick said the center will provide some west Anniston residents an easier place to access for care.

“It puts a place in the community so people have somewhere to go,” Reddick said. “Now, people won’t have to wait until they’re critical and have to go to the ER.”

 

Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.