By Katie Fallon

The Fulton County Department of Health and Wellness has placed the Sandy Springs Health Center at the top of its list in its efforts to overhaul the entire county’s healthcare facility network.

The county has deemed the center, which is located near Roswell Road at 330 Johnson Ferry Road, woefully undersized and overcrowded. At just 3,195 square feet, the center was built more than a half century ago and has not been expanded or renovated to meet the now 12,246 visitors it receives annually.

These findings were presented in a public hearing the county held at the North Fulton Service Center on Sept. 26. The county has further recommended that the community health center be replaced by a regional health center more than 10 times the square footage of the facility currently serving the area.

Classified as a “community” facility, the Sandy Springs Health Center offers basic Department of Health and Wellness services that include immunizations, women’s health, children’s health, dental screenings and WIC services. As a “regional” facility, it would offer additional, specialized services such as vital records, environmental health services, central administration, dental services for HIV patients and adult dental services.

Janet Adams, chief of staff for Health and Wellness Director Dr. Steven Katkowsky, said the county’s board of commissioners directed the department in August of last year to complete an assessment study on the state of the county’s 12 health centers. The results of that study were the master plan recommendations presented at the Sept. 26 public hearing.

Before any facility could be given replacement status, as is now the case with the Sandy Springs Health Center, it had to meet certain criteria. Those criteria include being less than 8,000 square feet, having deferred maintenance costs greater than 35 percent of replacement costs and being in an overlapping service area. Other similar considerations included usage, efficiency and whether the facility is leased or owned.

Based upon those criteria, the Sandy Springs Health Center was recommended for replacement because of its size, condition, outdated and inefficient functional layout and the very large population it serves.

Adams said the repercussions of the center’s shortcomings have affected both clients and staff.

“On occasions, there will be individuals standing in line outside the facility or there’s standing-room only inside,” Adams said. “We’ve had to do some hours changes in our scheduling. We can’t be an expedient as we would like to be giving our services.”

Overall, Adams said the center makes for very outdated and cramped quarters, where parking spaces could be taken up simply by staff.

“It’s very old,” she said. “No storage space…wall to wall people, wall to wall furnishings, wall to wall everything.”

Because of the combined effects of each shortcoming, Adams said the new Sandy Springs facility was named the toped priority in the county’s entire health and wellness facility master plan.

Although the county owns the current local health center, Adams said the preference is to find an already-built space that county can lease. The suggested size for a new facility that can properly serve the community is 35,000 square feet. In comparison, she said at the public hearing that records and paperwork alone could take up as much space in the proposed new center as is the entire size of the current health center.

The needed size, Adams said, also takes into account the population projections for the coming years. Part of the problem with many current facilities, she said, is that the people who originally built them multiple decades ago did not expect the county to still be utilizing them more than 40 years later.

The projected cost of obtaining a new facility is $14,048,382. That figure represents 22.5 percent of the countywide costs of the various expansion, renovation and replacement recommendations.

If the Board of Commissioners, which includes Sandy Springs representative Tom Lowe, approves the plan for a new facility in the area, Adams said the Land Department will start looking for a suitable property. So far, no decisions have been made as to tentative locations.

The city’s Community Development Director Nancy Leathers told Adams that City Manager John McDonough hoped the county would look for a more centrally located site for the new center, as opposed to a location similar to the North Fulton Service Center, where the hearing was held.

The Board of Commissioners is scheduled to vote in January on the 2008 budget that could include the funds for these recommendations.