Rockdale, which has faced a health care desert since Little River Healthcare filed for bankruptcy in late 2018, now will have a place to seek medical attention with the opening of a cooperatively managed CHI St. Joseph Health and HealthPoint clinic.

The HealthPoint clinic, a primary care clinic supported by CHI St. Joseph Health, opened its doors to the people of Rockdale on Nov. 4, staffed by a family physician, a pediatrician and an advanced practitioner. While Cameron now has a Baylor Scott & White clinic after the town’s Little River clinic shut down in January, Rockdale citizens have been without any form of localized health care almost all year. In addition to the Rockdale and Cameron clinic closings, Little River Healthcare’s bankruptcy also led to the closure of the county’s two hospitals.

“Rockdale formed a hospital district many years ago, and they own the buildings that house the hospitals and clinics,” explained Dr. Kia Parsi, chief medical officer with CHI St. Joseph Health. “They reached out to St. Joseph Health when they saw that Little River was having trouble, wanting to see if we could help.”

The new HealthPoint clinic, located in the same building as the vacated Little River clinic, mirrors similar clinics in Caldwell, Madisonville and Franklin. Parsi noted that these type of clinics accept patients of any age, both with and without insurance. Parsi said the existence of a primary care clinic providing preventative care should reduce the overall number of ambulance calls and emergency room visits originating out of Rockdale.

Since the closure of Milam County’s two hospitals, ambulance calls — though not more frequent — have required more time from emergency responders, according to Byron M. Sedlacek, the operations manager with American Medical Response of Milam County.

AMR provides the only medical response with just three ambulances to service the entire county. According to the United State Census Bureau, as of 2017 Milam County’s population exceeded 25,000 people.

Sedlacek attended a November meeting between Rockdale Volunteer Fire Department firefighters, the Rockdale Hospital District and the Texas A&M University Health Science Center. Attendees discussed Milam County’s health care dilemma, and Texas A&M representatives spoke about their initiative, a $10 million project launched in 2018 known as “Affordability Cures,” involving Texas A&M and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas. The project was designed to “support collaborative care and healthy communities that will target identifying and implementing solutions to health care challenges facing rural and underserved communities in Texas,” according to a 2018 Texas A&M Today article.

A Facebook post from Nov. 23 on the Rockdale VFD page, which was attributed to fire chief Ward Roddam, referenced the Texas A&M project, stating that it “may have some applicable resolutions to help with our healthcare issues we currently face. It will not reopen the hospital, but, my sense is that it will provide our community a new and innovative way to approach a clinical level of medical care and needs ...

“Additionally, the possible return of a volunteer medical response to respond and assess a patient’s needs in the event that there are no available ambulances in the county is good idea — RVFD is already doing this. However, I believe we still need to have a model that addresses the lack of having a transport ambulance within a 20 minute minimum response time as a critical need.”

Dr. Parsi said CHI St. Joseph Health is interested in doing even more work in the area, if possible, and is considering the feasibility of opening specialty practices in Milam County.

“St. Joseph Health has been committed to bringing care to the rural communities, and we have been for years,” he said.

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