WESTERLY — The doors of Wood River Health Services' new office at 17 Wells St. in Westerly will open on July 8, just steps away from Westerly Hospital. 
The federal health center, which now has a single facility in Hope Valley, serves residents from Exeter to North Stonington, Conn., including Charlestown, Richmond, Hopkinton, Westerly and Pawcatuck.
 
Alison Croke, president and CEO, said that the new location can accommodate all the Westerly patients who currently travel to Hope Valley for their medical needs if they choose to switch from Hope Valley. She said that a location closer to home, and on a Rhode Island Public Transit Authority flex route, will make services easier to access. In order to break even financially, the nonprofit center said it needs 1,200 additional patients between the two locations.
 
Wood River is the smallest of Rhode Island’s eight federal health centers, yet it covers the largest pocket of low-income residents in the state outside of the cities. For example, of 25,000 year-round Westerly residents, 5,500 of them qualify for Medicaid benefits, but few medical providers accept patients on Medicaid.
 
Few, if any, dental offices in the area accept Medicaid, the center pointed out, and behavioral health providers are rare in South County. Wood River said it screens all patients for anxiety, depression and substance abuse, and clinicians can intervene immediately in an emergency. Ongoing counseling is also available.
 
The center acceps most insurance, including Medicare, Medicaid and commercial insurance. However, its designation as a federally qualified health center means no one is turned away, including the uninsured. Payments are based on a patient’s ability to pay. Service is not free, but patients can pay bills with as little as $10 a month if necessary.
 
The Hope Valley center is open six days a week, and the new Westerly center will be open four days a week at first. Same-day appointments are available in hopes of reducing emergency room visits. “Going to the ER for your ear infection will cost three times as much as coming here,” Croke said, “and diverts ER resources away from those patients experiencing true emergencies.”
 
Croke and Development Coordinator David Henley said that the center's services cover everything from family medicine, women’s health, dental care, lab services, Women, Infants and Children nutrition education and assistance, and lactation counseling. Behavioral health services are available for individuals affected by domestic violence, substance abuse, child and elderly abuse and other psycho-social issues.
 
All four physicians have at least 20 years of experience, including an Ashaway native who was brought to Wood River Health Center as a child, the officials said. Three nurse practitioners, two licensed independent clinical social workers and a psychiatric nurse practitioner round out the medical staff.
 

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