A community health center that provides primary care to uninsured and underinsured patients will soon be able to help more people, thanks to federal grant funding.

A community health center that provides primary care to uninsured and underinsured patients will soon be able to help more people, thanks to federal grant funding.

UnionStar, located at 773 S. Walnut St. in Marysville, is a partnership between Memorial Hospital of Union County, the Union County Health Department, the UnionStar Board of Directors and Lower Lights Christian Health Center. This month, the clinic -- now open only on Tuesday mornings -- will start expanding its hours until it is open daily.

"Over the past few years, we've seen an increase in the number of patients who are un- or underinsured and in need of primary care. UnionStar will allow these patients to become established with a doctor who can closely follow their medical history and monitor health conditions over time," said Spence Fisher, Memorial Hospital's executive vice president.

Trudy Wilson, director of development at Lower Lights, said the facility treats all patients, regardless of their ability to pay.

"If a patient does not have insurance, we do a financial assessment to determine what sliding fee they should pay. Most uninsured patients pay the lowest amount of $10 per visit. However, if a patient is still unable to pay the payment of the $10 co-pay, we will still see the patient," she said. "No patient is ever turned away for inability to pay."

"Through the years, personal narratives and hard data have proven that many of our residents are going without chronic disease management and preventive care services, resulting in costly ER visits," said Union County Health Commissioner Jason Orcena. "With the addition of UnionStar to our local health-care system, more residents will have access to these services, improving lives in Union County."

The health department and Memorial Hospital spent several years developing a medical office where underserved residents could get quality health care. In June 2009, an independent board of directors was formed to start planning such a facility.

Rita Monroe, president of the UnionStar Board of Directors, said the group looked at many different operating models. The board originally planned to create its own Federally Qualified Health Center, but found the best fit was to partner with an existing FQHC. That's how Columbus-based Lower Lights became involved.

"Considerations such as resource availability, federal regulations and sustainability ultimately helped drive our decision to partner with Lower Lights," Wilson said.

Memorial Hospital donated office space along with some startup funding for the health center, while the health department provided staff, clinical supplies, equipment and leadership.

When it opened July 8, the clinic started small, operating only one half-day a week, but Lower Lights applied for federal grant funding to expand services.

In November, Lower Lights was notified it was among 236 health centers nationwide that would receive funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as part of the Affordable Care Act.

The organization was initially awarded $216,667 to expand its Marysville operations and is set to receive an additional $650,000 in the next grant cycle.

The grant is part of $150 million in funding aimed at helping an estimated 59,806 new patients throughout Ohio and more than 1.25 million patients nationwide.

Participants expect that the clinic will eventually help lower the cost of health care, due to a reduction in the number of non-emergency visits to local emergency rooms. According to Lower Lights, each time a patient is treated at one of its locations instead of going to the ER for non-emergency care, it saves the hospital about $500.

To schedule an appointment at UnionStar, call 614-274-1455. Walk-ins are accepted on a space-available basis.