Making health care more accessible

Published 8:00 am Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Blue Ridge Health offering extended hours, support group

COLUMBUS — Since opening its doors to Polk County residents in 2015, Blue Ridge Health has set out to create a clinic that serves the medical needs of anyone living in the Foothills area — regardless of income.

Thanks to some recently expanded hours, the Columbus-based health care center is more accessible than ever.

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Blue Ridge Health — Polk, located on the second level of the Columbus Commons at 155 W. Mills St., is now open later on Tuesdays, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. During the hours of 5 to 8 p.m., visitors will be able to use the practice’s family medicine services — which include preventive care, physical examinations and immunizations — as well as receive urgent care for treatment of minor injuries, burns, fevers and more.

The expanded Tuesday hours are thanks to a recent partnership between Blue Ridge Health and Columbus’ St. Luke’s Hospital, with the latter referring patients to the community health center to reduce the burden on its emergency room staff, said Lee Homan, marketing and development coordinator with Blue Ridge Health.

“Especially for vulnerable populations, who may not know we are available, we tend to work very closely with hospitals in the communities that we serve,” Homan said.

The Columbus health care center has also recently started a support group for women who are pregnant or have recently given birth, and are struggling with addiction to tobacco, alcohol or drugs. The group, led by Dr. Amy Marietta, meets from 1 to 2 p.m. on Wednesdays, where members discuss their problems in a judgment-free environment, and can receive the counseling and medical care they need to defeat their addiction.

“It is a fairly significant problem in Polk County and all of western North Carolina, where there [are] a lot of addiction problems with mothers,” Homan said. “It is one of [Marietta’s] big passions, to get out and help as many people as she can.”

Marietta recently began working at Blue Ridge Health — Polk to provide prenatal care to women living in the area, something that was lacking in Polk County before, Homan said.

Blue Ridge Health is a nonprofit Federally Qualified Health Center, which receives 22 percent of its operating budget through a federal grant. As a community health center, Blue Ridge Health serves areas that are considered medically underserved, such as Polk County, Homan said.

The health care organization was started in 1963, as a clinic that served the migrant population in Hendersonville. Over the years, the operation expanded to become a year-round health center open to the entire community — in 2015, it opened its location in Polk County.

In comparison to The Free Clinics program, which operates in the same location as Blue Ridge Health in Columbus, all patients are charged for services. The organization is extremely flexible in terms of billing, however, working with people to come up with a reasonable payment plan based on their family size and income, Homan said.

“Everyone deserves the chance to be healthy,” he said. “Nobody should be denied the opportunity to make a good, healthy decision for themselves. That is for the good of the patient, of the organization and of society as a whole. If a community is allowed to become more and more unhealthy, it only gets more and more expensive for that community to take care of its citizens. If there are thousands of chronically ill patients going untreated, eventually that community is going to have to pay the bill for their care, one way or another.”

People interested in making an appointment at Blue Ridge Health — Polk may call 828-894-2222 or visit