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November 28, 2004

Brazosport Medical Center Given Dentist's Office

By Elliott Blackburn
The Facts

(Freeport, TX) -­ There was no bright wrapping paper or neatly tied bow around the non-descript brown building, yet the 1,200 square-foot building, filled with $100,000 of dental equipment, was a gift better than Brazosport Medical Center money could buy.

“We welcome it as a special Christmas present,” center chairman Father Michael Gemignani said. “To get a building that is already configured inside and is reasonably close to the (center) really is a gift.”

Papers signed last week ended the center’s two-year search for breathing room, Gemignani said. Other buildings nearby were either unaffordable or in poor condition, but the old dental office on the corner of Gulf Boulevard and Old River Street would be perfect, he said.

Recently retired Freeport dentist Paul Barnard Jr. donated the nearly $50,000 building and his dental equipment on the suggestion of a friend from church, he said.

“The community was good to me, so I want to give something back to them,” Barnard said. “I think medical and dental fees are getting out of hand, and maybe this will help keep some of that down.”

Down the street, Gemignani navigated the small rooms housing X-ray machines and familiar, paper covered diagnostic tables in the more than 8,000 square-foot space currently used by the center. The building houses eight services, including primary medical care, optometry and dentistry.

No licensed medical services existed in the 77541 ZIP code before the center, United Way assistant executive director Joe Gardzina said. Patients flood the building, bringing families,walking or hitching rides to receive care, he said.

“It’s unparalleled,” Gardzina said. “Pretty much south of Angleton, no one is providing this kind of care.”

Bookcases in the executive director’s office are filled with manilla patient folders and equipment has been pushed into hallways to gain space in examining rooms. Only the murmur of a therapy session and a chiropractic visit could be heard in the tiled hallways Wednesday ­ the display cases of eyeglasses and check-up rooms were dark ­ but the rows of black chairs in the lobby usually are filled, Gemignani said.

“We’ve maxed out the use of the building we’re in now,” Gemignani said.

Most seats are crowded with indigent care patients, and more than 60 percent will be children under the age of 6. Patient encounters have doubled in the past few years ­ from 13,000 visits from about 4,000 patients two years ago to 26,000 visits by 7,000 patients ­ according to United Way and Brazosport Medical Center records.

“It’s a huge need,” Gardzina said. “The Medical Center is really a bright spot within the community in order to provide those types of services.”

The Medical Center board still is unsure what they will do with the new property, but administrative and storage space desperately is needed, Gemignani said. The new space could house a social worker and counseling services, or serve as expanded dentistry space, he said.

Any expansion that allows poorer patients to seek care before an illness becomes too serious helps keep critical patients out of hospital emergency rooms, Gardzina said.

“Any time you can build on the basic services that you have in one place, the more services that you can provide to other people, it’s cheaper for all of us,” Gardzina said.

Elliott Blackburn covers Freeport for The Facts. Contact him at (979) 237-0151.

Presented with permission of The Facts
Copyright © 2004 The Facts. All rights reserved.

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