By Brian Woodman Jr.
Susan Walkama, CEO and president of the private non-profit Wheeler Clinic, said the location that her organization opened in Bristol center last fall is intended to address a need.
While the Wheeler Clinic’s primary purpose is addressing behavioral issues like mental health problems and substance abuse, she said, staff members faced a problem despite serving the area for 45 years.
“We are working with a population that is often earning lower incomes and facing challenges beyond mental health,” she said. “Many do not have access to primary health services.”
She said about 60 or 70 percent of their clients do not have access.
The organization opened the Wheeler Health and Wellness Center at 10 North Main Street last October and is offering a variety of medical services here in an attempt to fill the gap, she said. The organization already operates 28 location across Connecticut that include four in Bristol; one of these is an outpatient clinic for children that is also on North Main Street.
“Sometimes access to health care is hampered by lack of income and insurance as well as cultural and linguistic barriers,” Walkama said.
The center offers what she described as a multi-disciplinary approach that offers a sliding scale for fees based on income. The staff includes a family practice physician, nurses, a mental health clinician, medical assistants and a community outreach coordinator who contacts residents and service organizations with information on the center. There is also an internal pharmacy that, along with other features of the center, is intended to allow clients to do as much as possible in one location.
Walkama said there were bilingual staff members. She added staff hoped to make it easier to serve the area’s large Latino population.
The center also offers monthly seminars on different health topics, she said. The latest in the series, which began in November, examined hypertension. The next seminar will be on March 20 and involve asthma action plans.
Walkama said he center’s staff works closely with Bristol Hospital, sharing information and making referrals. The organization’s other Health and Wellness Center, which is in Hartford, is formally partnered with St. Francis Hospital.
“The goal is to provide integrated health services for the patient,” said Walkaman. “It’s a trend in the health care system.