Lunch and learn program marks 40 years of First Choice

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LILLINGTON — First Choice Community Health Center celebrated 40 years of providing care to Harnett County Thursday afternoon with a lunch and learn program to share information about the services available in the area.

Founded in 1979 by Burr Webster, First Choice offers health services for every stage of life, from prenatal to geriatric care. The center addresses the needs of the uninsured population through sliding fee scales and payment plans in an effort to see everyone has access to health care.

“This was a vision of Burr Webster to bring this community together,” said Chief Executive Officer Sheila Simmons. “He had the vision to bring a community center to this area and here we are today. We provide primary health care services for the entire community.”

The center offers an array of services, including dental, X-rays, mobile labs and a pharmacy. One of the biggest challenges facing the facility is public awareness. Thursday’s luncheon and public forum focused on ways to keep patients in Harnett County and informing the public as to what is available locally.

“The challenge is getting the word out there about us because we don’t have a massive amount of money to put on advertising,” said Kathryn Ferguson, the vice chairman of the board of directors. “That’s why this forum is good because we find out what each person offers the community.”

Part of the clinic’s outreach effort is working with the various civic organizations across the county. Representatives from Campbell University, Harnett County Emergency Services, Harnett Health, Harnett Area Rural Transit Services and East Carolina University spoke during the luncheon about the array of services each offers the public. The partnership with First Choice focuses on ensuring public awareness to area services.

“Part of what we’re working on is trying to keep more people in the county,” Rep. Jim Burgin (R-12th District) said. “We need to be keeping as much care in the county as we possibly can. We want to encourage people to go to the local hospital, go the local doctors and come to this center.”

According to Cory Hess from Harnett Health, 70% of people leave Harnett County to get health care and three out of every four babies are born outside the county. The doctor to patient ratio is nearly twice the state average. Harnett County averages 7.2 physicians for every 10,000 people.

“We use our community medical task force to pull everyone together,” said Ferguson. “We want to let everyone know what’s available so they can put it out to the community. We’re trying to offer more and more as funding become available. We try not to reproduce the same thing and waste money.”

Patricia Bolton, a patient at the center for several years, praises the facility and its staff for keeping her off medications and able to donate blood. She uses the center’s gym regularly and recommends other seniors stay active as well.

“This is a real community,” Bolton said. “I love all the employees. They make you feel so welcome. I love the gym. It keeps me from seeing the doctor as much.”

Rebecca Young, a provider at Anderson Creek Medical Center, credits the center for its outreach program.

“We look for opportunities for us to get to know the community and the area,” Young said. “The population we see is underserved but they’re very appreciative and we love our patients. This is an awesome place to work.”

For more information, call First Choice Community Health Center at 910-364-0970.

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