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Ohio Hills Health Services expanding

BARNESVILLE — Ohio Hills Health Services continues to provide basic health services while taking on duties related to the coronavirus pandemic.

On Thursday, the Belmont County board of commissioners toured the Barnesville location and an adjoining structure, which will soon house an expanded dentistry service. However, in the near future the site will be used for COVID-19 testing in the winter months.

“We have a tent out back right now where we’re doing our testing to keep patients out of the building and not expose them to other patients, but unfortunately COVID hasn’t gone away, and it’s going to be winter,” Jan Chambers, director of outreach and development, said. “We’re going to bring it in here, and we’re able to use some of the funding that we’ve received for COVID to renovate.”

OHHS Executive Director Jeff Britton said the site would also be used for new coronavirus vaccinations.

“It gives us a jumpstart on this renovation where we needed funding,” Chambers said. “We had to put this on hold with COVID because we weren’t moving forward, we weren’t getting the funding, but this allows us to get started.”

Britton said the transition to a dental service provider should be seamless.

“It’ll be right next to our medical facility,” Britton said. “With the restrictions on dental by the state during the pandemic, it just didn’t make sense to move forward with renovations.”

OHHS has dentists at Barnesville and Freeport locations.

Michael Carpenter, chief operating officer, described the clinic’s adjustments during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

“In the early phases, it was just challenging for us. The State Dental Association came out and said ‘absolutely no general care in your dentist offices,'” he said, adding they also had to acquire protective gear. “We had to shut down operations for about six weeks at the Freeport dental and Barnesville dental, seeing only emergency cases during that time frame.”

This meant a decrease from seeing nine to 12 patients daily at each office to eight to 10 per week.

“That was a big hit for us. We were able to navigate it and keep staff employed during that time and protect our staff and our patient base,” he said, adding that protective gear has been stockpiled and patients are checked on entering.

In addition, COVID testing is offered through each office to established patients.

“We offer the viral testing and the antibody testing to any non-patients that would want to come out. Two days a week for the viral swabs and three days a week for the antibody blood draws. The only requirement is a primary care provider would need to send an order to our office,” Carpenter said.

Other precautions include bringing people with respiration-related symptoms into the office only at certain times in order to limit possible infection.

Patients’ televisits with doctors also increased.

Britton said the clinic is also working with the Ohio Association of Community Health Centers to prepare to deploy vaccines in the coming months.

“We’ll play an active role in getting that out,” he said.

“It’s something I’ve never experienced in 27 years in the health care field, and I hope I never experience it again,” Britton said, adding he was proud of the staff, who proved adaptable to the situation and remained focused on the patients’ well-being.

“When the pandemic hit, our volume of visits definitely decreased significantly,” Britton said, adding that the clinics are back to pre-pandemic numbers. He said about 2,500 patients are seen on average per month, with 1,250 at the Barnesville site. About 10 percent of patient visits are online.

Britton noted the Woodsfield office is also expanding to another building after 42 years.

“We’ve outgrown it. Our patient volume down there has increased by about 30 percent.”

OHHS also has locations in Freeport, and has expanded dental services there as well. It operates in nine Ohio counties and three in West Virginia.

He said they accept Medicaid and have a sliding fee scale for low-income patients, as well as “lab days” where screenings are offered at a lower price than at hospitals.

“We are the safety net for the underserved population,” Carpenter said.

“Ohio Hills as a whole is a great resource for our community,” Chambers said. “It really makes health care and dental care and behavioral health now affordable and accessible for our community. That’s where one of the huge gaps has been.”

OHHS can refer patients to specialists and hire specialists if necessary. It also takes information about patients’ locations and considers opening new clinics in areas of high need.

Britton said one challenge continued to be spreading word of the organization and the range of services provided. This includes increasing their social media marketing.

Dutton said the commissioner would continue to spread word of the clinic and its services and to keep the organization appraised of possible grants.

“You play a vital role in Belmont County and Appalachian Ohio,” Dutton said.

For more information, visit OhioHillsHealthServices.com or call 740-239-6447.

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