WEST COLUMBIA — City economic development funds soon will flow to the West Columbia Health Clinic after City Council’s approval of a new agreement with the Sweeny Hospital District.
The agreement will provide $150,000 over the next five years to help the three-year-old clinic defray startup costs, using money raised through an existing half-cent sales tax earmarked for economic development. Council approved the measure Monday by a unanimous vote, with Councilman Jamie Walker abstaining.
West Columbia lies within an area identified by the federal and state governments as having a shortage of primary-care providers, and financial support for the clinic is part of a targeted effort by the city to expand the availability of medical services.
Monday’s vote marks the second time the city has offered help to the West Columbia Health Clinic under Chapter 380 of the local government code, which gives council the authority to provide incentives for economic development. A previous agreement with the Sweeny Hospital District, which owns and operates the clinic, took effect when the clinic opened in 2015.
The city voided that agreement just six months after the clinic opened, however, because it failed to meet a requirement to provide services for at least 32 hours each week. As a result, the hospital district repaid more than $95,000 in May 2016 that the city had provided through the West Columbia Economic Development Corp.
The clinic has since made significant improvements, said Scott Briner, chief executive officer of the Sweeny Hospital District. He said getting the clinic up to the standards required under the initial agreement was a top priority for him after he joined the district in late 2016.
“We wanted to make sure all of the pieces of the first 380 agreement were stabilized, solidified and executed,” he said. “And then we wanted to do some things above and beyond to demonstrate our long-term commitment in West Columbia.”
The clinic is now operating well over the 32 hours per week outlined in the 2015 agreement and is certified as a rural health center, he said. It is staffed full-time by two nurse practitioners, one of whom specializes in family care and another who specializes in adult and geriatric care.
Over the past three months, the clinic also added the capability to provide vaccinations. It is finishing the process to become an approved provider for the Texas Vaccines for Children program and the Texas Adult Safety Net Immunization program, Briner said.
With the improvements in place, the hospital district approached the city early this year about creating a new Chapter 380 agreement to support the clinic.
“It is pretty common that as a clinic is building, it creates more expenses than income,” Briner said. “This agreement allows us to know that there are resources to help us with that financial loss.”
Council first considered the new agreement last month, but did not approve it because of questions from Walker about the clinic’s long-term vision. In the meeting Monday, Briner told council members the clinic would like to add capabilities such as in-house X-rays and lab work, but the district cannot commit to a specific timeline for those additions at this point.
Mayor Laurie Kincannon said council and the economic development corporation believe it is extremely important to provide more medical services for the city’s residents.