The Union County Health Department has made strides toward bringing a community health center to the area with the selection of an executive director.

The Union County Health Department has made strides toward bringing a community health center to the area with the selection of an executive director.

Health commissioner Jason Orcena said the board for the proposed Union County Health Center (UCHC) has named David Kerins as executive director. If all the needed finances are available in the spring, Orcena said, Kerins will start the part-time job in March. He will be paid $40,000 annually.

Kerins currently works as director of operations for the nurse helpline at Humana, a Kentucky-based company that markets and administers health insurance.

"David is starting to work on some things with us, being included in some conversations, but there are still some unknowns," Orcena said. "We have to get to that place where the accounts are open."

Health department officials announced in October that, along with Memorial Hospital, they are working on creating the county's first community health center, the first step toward being certified as a federally qualified health center (FQHC). An FQHC is a type of provider defined by Medicare and Medicaid statutes that qualifies for several federal benefits, including reduced-cost medications and enhanced Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements.

The UCHC will be a brick-and-mortar center aimed at keeping residents' and providers' health costs under control. Orcena said the health department is waiting for the UCHC's nonprofit status application to be processed by the state before more financial decisions can be made.

The idea behind a community health center, he has said, is to make health care affordable for the under-insured. The center will not be a free clinic; patients are expected to pay something toward their health care.

But for those who might not be able to afford other health care, being able to seek treatment at the proposed center decreases their

chances of winding up in an emergency room for something that could have been noticed earlier.

"Those who don't carry insurance and are self-pay - those could be independent professionals - and if you are self-pay or on Medicaid, then a community health center is designed for you, to help control the costs associated with chronic diseases and other conditions," Orcena said.

He said the board received a strong response to its search for an executive director.

"The board interviewed a lot of candidates. We received over 50 resumes, which is not what we were expecting from advertising this as a part-time position," he said.

If ultimately approved as an FQHC, the community health center will be required to provide primary care services for all age groups, in the form of preventive health services on-site or by arrangement with providers. Other requirements include that the center provide (directly or through arrangement) dental services, mental health and substance abuse services, transportation services necessary for adequate patient care, hospital and specialty care.

Orcena said the health center board will have a better picture of how the center will take shape early next year as the financial picture for both the state and becomes clearer.