La Red opens new health care center to serve western Sussex

By Tony E. Windsor

On the third Thursday of November the nation recognizes National Rural Health Day. This day is set aside to highlight the quality of life that exists in rural communities, but also to recognize the unique health-related issues that face these cities and towns and the agencies that are working to address these issues.

This year, National Rural Health Day was used as a backdrop for the official opening of a significant health care opportunity in western Sussex County. On Thursday, Nov. 21, a ribbon cutting ceremony was held to recognize the opening of the La Red Health Center in downtown Seaford. Prior to the actual ribbon cutting a ceremony was held inside a tent erected in the parking lot behind the health center on Cannon Street.

Brian Olson, La Red chief executive officer, said that in 2010 La Red opened a satellite site on Middleford Road, in Seaford to gain presence in western Sussex County. The health care organization has been operating in Georgetown and in April, 2012, officially opened a new 25,000 square-foot facility there. "We recognized that a lot of the patients we were seeing in Georgetown came there from the western part of the county," he said.

Olson said the downtown Seaford La Red Health Center opened in September, but the ribbon cutting was delayed to coincide with National Rural Health Day. He said that it is important to La Red to have a presence in western Sussex to meet the health care needs of the number of people, many without insurance, who are in need of health care. The new center, which La Red owns, provides 8,900 square-feet of medical space as compared to the previously leased satellite location which was 1,400 square-feet in size.

During the ceremony a patient of La Red, Patricia Holly-Nichols shared her relationship with the health facility and the benefits of having it located in western Sussex. Nichols said she first started visiting La Red at its Georgetown facility in 2008. "I did not have any type of health insurance but they (La Red) took me in and treated as if I did have insurance." Nichols said because of living in Seaford and having to travel to Georgetown she eventually stopped going to La Red. However, once the health care facility opened its Seaford office she came back.

"This is such a plus for me to have La Red here where I live," she said. "I appreciate the way they treat people. They have treated me as if I have had insurance the whole time I have been coming. It is much needed to have them here in Seaford."

State Rep. Danny Short was in attendance and spoke at the ceremony. He said that as a representative of the Seaford-area, he is interested in ways that more jobs and development can be brought to the area. He said the presence of La Red Health Center in western Sussex is the culmination of many people and entities working together, much like bringing together "the pieces of a puzzle." He said that this synergy of cooperative efforts provides an example of what can happen in communities when people come together.

Short told the audience that he has developed his own acronym for the name "La Red" which he feels defines the synergy that goes into brining affordable health care services to rural communities. "I know La Red has a mission statement," he said.

"But, I have my own take on what La Red means in the context of providing much needed affordable health care." He then went on to share his personal definition of the La Red name as being, "Let's All Really Expedite Development (La Red) of health care delivery." Short said La Red represents not only an opportunity to address the health care needs of people in the western Sussex County area, but also provide another economic development opportunity to preserve and prosper Seaford's downtown.

State Rep. Tim Dukes, of Laurel, also applauded the efforts of La Red in bringing its affordable health care services to western Sussex citing the health care needs in the area. "Thank you, La Red for coming to western Sussex County and recognizing the health care needs here," he said.

"Everyone knows we have an extreme health care crisis in our nation. We can look at what is happening in Washington, D.C., but how is that affecting us right here at our individual homes? La Red is not just talking about the needs of people in our communities; they are finding a need, meeting the need and healing a hurt."

Among the supporters of La Red in attendance for the opening of the health care center was USDA Rural Development. Bill McGowan, executive director of Rural Development, says La Red's mission to bring quality health care to underserved communities is in line with the mission of USDA Rural Development, which is to increase economic development and improve the quality of life in rural areas.

He said the La Red Health Center is Seaford was supported with a Community Facilities direct loan in the amount of $1.2 million. McGowan, a former La Red Board member himself, said the USDA Rural Development agency has committed $5 million in funding to La Red over the past five years; this includes the new health facility in Georgetown. "We truly love our relationship with La Red," McGowan said, "because each of our missions complements one another. Health care, quality of life and improving rural America, you can't go wrong with that."

In her comments, La Red's Board President Prue Albright Sadowski, acknowledged the ongoing partnership La Red has had with Nanticoke Health Services, in Seaford. Recognizing NHS Senior Vice President Tom Brown who attended the ribbon cutting, Sadowski said the partnership has been significant in the growth of La Red. "We got our start with the partnership with Nanticoke Health Services and continue to have a significant partnership that I know will continue into the future," she said.

La Red started in Georgetown in 2001 targeting the uninsured and growing uninsured in Sussex County. CEO, Brian Olson said the organization has gone from a very small center to a significantly large health care organization in the county. "In the beginning 99 percent of La Red patients were Latinos," he said. "Over the years we have had a shift in demographics and today we have more African-American and Caucasian patients using the services of our center.

Kay Malone, chief operations officer, said the shift in demographics has been impacted by the tough economic times in recent years. "It is important to not only impact the patients who are younger, but also those people who have traditionally had insurance but now find themselves without insurance and unaware of what to do. If La Red were not in Sussex County the quality of health would be greatly deteriorated," she said.

According to information on its website, La Red is the only Federally Qualified health center in Sussex County and receives about 15,000 medical visits from an estimated 6,500 patients each year. With an operating budget of $3.5 million annually, La Red has provided medical care to 50 percent of its patients who have no form of health insurance.

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