SCRANTON -- The city's federally qualified health center has plans to address a serious shortage in mental and behavioral health services.
The Clinics at Scranton Primary Health Care Center on Wyoming Avenue plans to begin construction on roughly 5,000 square feet of unused space on its top floor by the summer.
The plan is to dedicate about half to behavioral health, said Executive Director Joseph H. Hollander. The other half will go to expanded capacity for dental services, with two new hygienists and possibly another dentist, as well as additional space for internal medicine.
"To be able to have the warm handoff from a medical provider directly to a social worker or psychologist, we just think it's a far superior option for everyone involved," he said. "Rather than to get somebody an appointment and hope they show up."
The behavioral health initiative comes amid a number of progressive moves at Scranton Primary to make health care more accessible.
The clinic on Wyoming Avenue, which serve mostly people on medical assistance but also patients with private insurance, recently added another dentist and dental clinic hours to include Saturdays.
Federally qualified health centers care for underserved populations and are eligible to receive enhanced Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements.
Scranton Primary in October opened a satellite clinic in South Scranton, in a United Neighborhood Centers building above the senior center on Alder Street. Around the same time, Scranton Primary also became Lackawanna College's health services provider.
UNC, a nonprofit human services agency, has worked the last five years or so on redeveloping South Scranton.
"One of the needs that we identified a number of years ago was the need for health care," said UNC Chief Executive Officer Michael Hanley. "There really isn't any health care over in that part of town."
The Central Scranton Expressway mounts a de facto barrier for some, dividing the city's pulsing health industry and the populous south side. Transportation remains one of the greatest obstacles for some people to get care.
Bringing health services to the neighborhood was important enough that UNC temporarily moved administrative offices for the clinic.
Aside from major projects, Scranton Primary is finding new ways to build on old programs.
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Seven years ago, the Young Lawyers Division of the Lackawanna Bar Association spearheaded a project to help people get basic dental care.
With funding from the United Way and anonymous donors, Scranton Primary distributed 7,000 kits including a toothbrush, floss and a gift card for services -- a $150 value for adults and $200 value for children. The gift card covers the cost of a visit and X-rays for adults, and the same for kids plus fluoride and sealant treatments.
This past year marked a dramatic expansion of the program with kits distributed from more than 30 local organizations. Last year they packed only 1,000 kits.
Hollander said the effort gets more people in the dentist's chair for preventive care, hopefully to catch problems before they need costlier attention.
On any given day, nearly every available square foot at Scranton Primary bustles with medical staff and patients.
In the former elementary school built around 1900, staff make use of every nook and cranny, with offices and exam rooms off tight hallways and workstations tucked neatly into corners with an efficiency Hollander is proud of. After finishing the fourth-floor renovations, the last unclaimed space will become productive.
"The problem has been being careful and going forward with managed growth. You can expand too quickly and fall flat on your face," Hollander said. "That's probably been the hardest part, to curb my own enthusiasm and my staff's enthusiasm so that we move in a methodical manner."
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