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Inside Region One Health’s decision to close Guthrie Primary Care

Despite the protests and pleas of North Memphis residents at Monday’s (Aug.31) Shelby County Commission meeting, the epitaph for the Regional One Health’s Guthrie Primary Care facility was sealed.

Once an anchor in an underserved community, the location’s Klondike community operations are being consolidated three miles further east with Hollywood Primary Care at 2500 Peres Rd. The closure was the decision of the Shelby County Healthcare Corporation. Its members are nominated by commissioners.

“There’s actually a broader array of services available at Hollywood Primary Care. We have adult services, we have pediatrics, we have a very robust women’s health services there, that includes a nice compliment of midwives,” offered Regional One’s chief administrative officer Tish Towns.

“When you look at the two sites and the proximity, the robust offering at Hollywood is much more significant than what we’re able to offer at Guthrie.”

Although the commission has no oversight regarding the decision, the residents’ sentiments were emblematic of the frustration residents in underserved neighborhoods face daily regarding a lack of basic services, or services closing or moving further away.

The closure boils down to numbers. Traffic at the Guthrie facility at 1064 Breedlove St. dwindled over the years. With 190-200 current patients, its three providers averaged three patients per day.

Along with their providers, most patients affected by the closure are expected to transition to the Hollywood location. All but one employee will make the move.

Despite the assurances, comments from North Memphis residents belied the data.

To a person, they spoke of the growing needs in the area and the continuing importance of the location.

The contrast didn’t go unnoticed.

“I’ll be honest, it wasn’t until public comment that I realized how big of an issue we are talking about. The presentation by Regional One seemed a little misleading, because it didn’t really talk about the tension here,” said Commissioner Britney Thornton.

The closure likely will create a gap in services that will be acutely felt by some.

Among the county’s most economically vulnerable areas, North Memphis suffers from a near across-the-board gap in services.

Along with a scarcity of healthcare options, it lacks other basic services and employment opportunities. Like many impoverished communities, it also has high rates of violent crime and drug addiction.

To compound problems, many community members also lack reliable transportation. To help patients make appointments, ride share vouchers will be provided.

Medicaid patients, meanwhile, can have transportation arranged through nonemergency transport. Healthcare navigators, including the six Guthrie staff members making the move, will be available to provide further information, directions or other options.

“We are all concerned about access to care and individuals being able to see their providers. We have a dedicated navigator to help the established patients from Guthrie find their way to Hollywood primary care, if that’s where they choose to go,” said Towns.

With the closure, ROH will operate seven primary care locations in the county. Along with Hollywood, there are locations at Quince Road, Walnut Grove, South Third Street, Kirby Road, Harbor Bend Road and Union Ave.

“There seems to be a long distance between your South Memphis location (1955 South Third St.) and your East Memphis (6555 Quince Rd.) location, with the obvious District 10 in between. Is there a plan to create additional primary care networks? Is there a possibility to fill that gap?” queried Thornton, commissioner for District 10.

Thornton continued, “As I continue to receive these kinds of presentations, within this particular catch-all is 38114, which is definitely a high-needs area. I would love to see us fill that gap. It looks to me like we’ve got a pretty equi-distant grid and there’s just a huge gap on this map.”

The 38114-zip code includes historic Black neighborhoods such as Orange Mound and Castalia Heights in South Memphis.

The commissioner’s desire, however, would reverse the trend. In fact, more closures appear to be on the horizon.

Towns said the Kirby Road location also is slated to be phased out. Many of its problems are industrywide.

“We have challenges recruiting primary care providers…We have challenges across the board finding nursing and clinical support staff. When you hear about the healthcare worker shortages, those absolutely impact us,” said Towns.

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