Visitors pass a vegetable, herb and flower garden and enter a sleek, modern lobby lit by clear globes hanging from the ceiling and sunshine streaming through doors and windows. Bright, photographic murals adorn the walls, depicting scenes from nearby neighborhoods. It’s clear this isn’t your typical public health clinic.
Central Health officials say their newest clinic — which includes the education garden out front, a kitchen for cooking classes, a large meeting room for the public, free exercise classes and a kids’ playscape — is the one-stop shop residents asked for, not just for treating the sick but for keeping folks healthy.
But you can see for yourself. On Saturday, there will be an open house with music and food, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., at the Southeast Health and Wellness Center, 2901 Montopolis Drive.
After opening in October 2014 upon completion of its first phase, the center is now twice as big and fully built-out, with nearly 74,000 square feet of clinic and community space. A budget of $27.7 million covered the land and renovation costs, including new square footage for mechanical equipment.
“What’s so good about it is I can get everything I need in one place,” said Carlos Palacios, who is 57 and receives primary care, help with depression, specialty care for diabetes and dental services at the center.
“I got my teeth here,” he said, showing off new dentures. “I can eat solid food again. … Everybody has treated me so nice here.”
Dr. Susan Dubois, an endocrinologist who treats diabetics, said she has worked for Central Health’s affiliated CommUnityCare clinics since 2009 and is thrilled to be at the Southeast center. “This is fabulous, a dream come true,” she said.
Patients can access on-site imaging services, including mammograms, as well as a pharmacy, laboratory, hearing tests and pregnancy education as well as classes for learning how to cook healthy meals, grow food and manage diabetes with the aid of nutritionists. They can get same-day appointments when they’re sick and don’t have to travel to other sign-up locations if they become eligible for a different kind of coverage, Dubois said.
Ofelia Zapata, a board member with Austin Interfaith, said she started pressing for a comprehensive health center in her Dove Springs neighborhood in the 1990s. After voters created Central Health in 2004, officials there responded to Zapata and others by opening an urgent care center on William Cannon Drive in 2009. That was “a Band-Aid,” Zapata said.
A fight ensued, she said, and now she’s elated. Although the new facility isn’t in Dove Springs, it’s close by, she said.
“We are finally getting that holistic health care facility we wanted,” Zapata said. “I’m in awe about it. It’s amazing. It’s beautiful.”
Officials expect 80,000 patient visits this year, mainly from low-income or uninsured residents of Dove Springs, Montopolis and Del Valle.
University of Texas Dell Medical School students and new doctors will train at the center on ways to better coordinate care and make it more cost-efficient.
Once the home of a veterans’ clinic, Central Health bought the property in 2011 for $8 million, estimating renovation costs at $2 million. Officials later learned they had to gut the building, dramatically raising the cost.
It is now CommUnityCare’s largest facility, with 45,000 square feet of clinical space and the rest for other services, including the Women, Infants, and Children, or WIC, nutrition program.