Less than a year from when Variety Care reopened its doors to a newly renovated health care facility, it has already more than doubled the number of annual patients served.

Variety Care merged with the facility at 317 E. Himes St., formerly the Health for Friends clinic, in order to help meet the growing needs of Norman and Cleveland County, said Lou Carmichael, Variety Care CEO.

“There’s a real growing need for people in poverty and people in the Norman area. There are really very few options for medical care,” Carmichael said. “It’s really tough for the uninsured poor.”

While Variety Care is not a free clinic, they do serve the uninsured and have a sliding fee scale based on household income and number of family members at home. For many of those people, Carmichael said often times their only real option for health care tends to be the Emergency Room.

Health for Friends approached Variety Care to get help meeting the needs they saw in the community. The two began working together on the practice in 2013 and Variety Care worked out of the Himes location for about six months before the renovation began.

Carmichael said the building started small and kept growing, so something else would be added, but after awhile the footprint didn’t really work out for what was going on. It also wasn’t sufficient to meet the demand, she said.

After the board approved a capital improvement project for the facility’s renovation, by June 2014 they were able to put four full-time practitioners under the roof, which is what they really needed, Carmichael said.

Current services offered include preventative medicine, infectious disease, geriatrics, family planning, work and school physicals, immunizations, and more.

The facility did lose dental services, but Variety Care transports patients from the Himes location to their south Oklahoma City location to help serve those needs. While they are hoping to find a permanent, local solution for Norman, she said it’s very expensive to build a dental facility and dental equipment is also very expensive.

Although Variety Care was able to add two family medicine practitioners after the Himes facility was reopened, as well as add two pediatricians to their pediatrics site on Porter Avenue, Carmichael said they still need to grow in order to better serve the Norman and Cleveland County area.

Health for Friends was seeing about 2,500 patients annually and Variety Care is now seeing about 6,000 patents per year at the facility, she said, adding that numbers have more than doubled.

Last year Variety Care saw about 45,000 patients in Oklahoma, operating with 16 sites statewide. Records indicate about 16,000 of those patients lived in the Norman or Central Oklahoma area, she said.

“Eventually our goal and our hope is to have onsite medical, dental, vision, nutrition,” Carmichael said. “But we would need to build a larger facility. Not just for Norman, but really for Cleveland County.”

The space on Himes was filled up almost immediately and she said until they have a larger facility for adult medicine, they’re pretty much at capacity.

The goal for a larger Norman facility is in Variety Care’s long-range strategic plan that takes them out to 2020, she said. With the hopes of getting dental and vision services back and all on one site, the Norman location on Himes would then likely serve as an emergency room diversion.

Until then, they will continue transporting dental patients, which is only about a 15 minute commute, Carmichael said.

Variety Care is also hoping to continue partnering with schools to have health care sites actually located in the school. They are currently working together with Norman Public Schools for Norman’s first school-based health and wellness center in at Longfellow Middle School.

While Variety Care has a pediatrics center on Porter Avenue, having a health care site in certain schools provides Norman the opportunity to be progressive about the health of low income students, Carmichael said.

Currently on campus at Capitol Hill High School, moving into a new facility at Edgemere Elementary and having a women’s health care provider at Emerson High School have been proven to be not only great partnerships, but have very positive outcomes for health, she said.

“Those models have been proven nationwide,” Carmichael said. “The school actually became more of a hub for the community and one of the services often needed is access to medical care.”

The children are the priority, but even parents, siblings and faculty members can use the site.

Another thing Variety Care is offering to current patients now is access to 340B, or discounted medications, which has been in place since 2014. It allows patients who have prescriptions written by Variety Care providers to save 40 percent on those medications.

For more information about Variety Care, visit varietycare.org

Jessica Bruha366-3540jbruha@normantranscript.com Follow me @JBruhaTNT

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