United Community & Family Services marks renovation of medical clinic

Dr. Ramindra Walia checks Xavier Goode, 7, for asthma symptoms in one of the new examination rooms at the United Community & Family Services clinic in Norwich on Wednesday.

Norwich — The best of the many new features of the renovated and expanded space at United Community & Family Services, according to one of the agency’s nurses, is the separate waiting areas for medical, behavioral health and dental care appointments, replacing the single large central area that could get crowded.

“It’s wonderful,” Nancy Holte, nurse manager at UCFS, said as she stopped to chat with a group touring the new space Wednesday. “Having individual waiting rooms is a tremendous help, and infection control is better.”

The new waiting rooms are part of a 26,000-square-foot addition and renovation project that doubled the number of medical exam rooms to 24, increased the number of behavioral health treatment offices by one-third, to 58, and added a dozen new dental care rooms, an in-house pharmacy and new staff offices. With the new space, the total square footage of the facility is now 48,000 square feet.

“You have made a facility that is a great equalizer in our city,” said Mayor Deberey Hinchey during a ribbon-cutting ceremony celebrating the completion of the yearlong project.

She and state Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, both highlighted the mental health care provided by UCFS as one of the many ways the nonprofit agency fills a critical need in the community.

“We need more places like this,” Osten said.

U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, said the new space is “all about access to care.” UCFS was among health centers that “really stepped up” to embrace the goals of the federal Affordable Care Act and the state’s Access Health CT online marketplace to sign people up for health insurance, he said. About 1,100 people enrolled in Medicaid, HUSKY or private health insurance through assisters working at UCFS, he said.

Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, who oversaw the creation and implementation of the Affordable Care Act in Connecticut, said that half of the 256,000 people statewide who enrolled through Access Health CT never had health insurance.

“Most of them are going to be coming to a place like this,” she said. “Now they have a place to go with a little pride, because they can say, ‘Hey, I can pay for my services now.’ Keep up the good work.”

The project was funded with an $800,000 donation from the Edward & Mary Lord Foundation and a $3.4 million state grant, said Chuck Seeman, chief executive officer of UCFS. It completes the transformation of the former retail and restaurant space UCFS moved into in 1999 and renovated in phases, at a total cost of $5.5 million. With the expansion, UCFS added 21 new staff positions to its 350-member, $17 million payroll, Seeman said. UCFS is now hoping for similar projects to improve its Plainfield and Griswold clinics, which he said are both at capacity.

Seeman said patient visits to UCFS rose 22 percent in the past year, to 109,389, and are projected to grow to 120,000 in 2015.

During a tour, Jennifer Granger, chief operating officer of UCFS, showed the modern, professional waiting areas and newly equipped exam rooms, all organized around a central hallway.

“We arranged everything around a single long corridor so people can find their way around,” she said. “The old building was like a maze.”

Pamela Kinder, vice president of marketing and facilities at UCFS, oversaw the project and was presented with a plaque that will be hung outside a new conference room named for her.

“This has been a labor of love for me,” she said. “Our patients are so thrilled when they walk in with what we’ve built for them.”

j.benson@theday.com

Twitter: @bensonjudy

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