A yearslong local collaboration is behind the expansion of a federally qualified health center in Jeffersonville. 

The Jeffersonville clinic of Community Health Care Systems opened in 2008. Community Health Care Systems has 13 other outlets in surrounding counties, including Bibb, Jones and Wilkinson. 

As a federally qualified health center, they accept patients regardless of their ability to pay, offering sliding-scale fees and discounts for people without insurance — about 18% of the population in Twiggs County. 

Two years ago, Twiggs County’s population health ranked dead last in the state. It’s moved up, but still struggles in metrics like access to exercise, child poverty, physical injuries and suicide, according to a national analysis of county health rankings out of the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.  

Now, Community Health Care Systems is expanding its clinic after more than a decade of seeing patients. 

CHCS Health Educator Camesha Grant said the new space will help match their growing patient load. 

Because there's nowhere else to go,” Grant said. “Unless you go out of town to Dublin or Macon.”

That also meant sicker patients sometimes. 

But with it being right here … What's stopping you from getting the medical care that you need?” Grant said. 

The new space, on the same land as the elementary and high school, will also bring more specialty care, like behavioral health therapists. CEO of Community Health Care Systems Carla Belcher said they want to provide behavioral health services at all of their health centers. 

“We're just really starting to build up our behavioral health program, and during the pandemic ... some of that waned a little bit,” Belcher said. “And so we're back on the ramp up again.”

 The new space is set to open in October. 

I believe you're going to go from one of the sickest counties in Georgia to one of the healthiest, and that's not as far away as you think,” said Dr. Jean Sumner, dean of the Mercer University School of Medicine. “This building will certainly help, but it's the community power and attitude that we stick together and we help each other.” 

Mercer’s Rural Health Innovation Center is a co-partner of Live Well Twiggs, that brings the county, local agencies and Mercer together to promote health education. Medical students from the school also do rotations at the clinic. 

The health issues here, a lot of them have to do with people who historically have never gone to doctors,” said Judy Sherling, executive director of the Twiggs County and Jeffersonville Development Authority. 

Another issue: disparities in care among white and Black residents. It’s a problem statewide, and exists along rural and urban divides, too.  

“The disparity between care is really what got all of the grant funding that we got,” said Sherling. 

The expansion has a price tag of around $1.2 million. It’s being paid for by the Development Authority, a match in funds from UnitedHealthcare, around $800,000 in a rural development grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and non-monetary contributions from Community Health Care Systems.