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UF Health’s East Gainesville center celebrated

Rendering of prosed clinic
UF Health held a virtual groundbreaking ceremony on June 21 to celebrate the forthcoming University of Florida Health Urgent Care Center – Eastside, a long sought-after resource for the area.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — By mid-2024, a vacant lot in East Gainesville will be home to a medical destination that has long been sought in the area: University of Florida Health Urgent Care Center – Eastside. Unable to hold a traditional groundbreaking ceremony because of inclement weather, officials from UF Health, the city of Gainesville and Alachua County instead held an online affair for the 9,000-square-foot center on Zoom.

Gainesville and Alachua County are contributing $2.25 million each in federal COVID-19 relief funds to help build the center. UF Health will be responsible for ongoing operations. The $5.7 million urgent care center is just the start of a potentially busy destination spot for East Gainesville. Officials envision the site at Southeast Hawthorne Road and Southeast 20th Street becoming a medical, employment and perhaps retail hub for one of the city’s most underserved areas.

“Over the years, many residents have expressed the need for health care closer to home. It is very fulfilling to bring convenient urgent care to the heart of East Gainesville but this is also about more than a medical clinic. Ideally, UF Health’s alliance with the city and county will be a catalyst that improves residents’ quality of life,” said David R. Nelson, M.D., senior vice president for health affairs at UF and president of UF Health

The center will feature eight examination rooms, two procedure rooms, an X-ray area and a community room. It is expected to be open seven days a week, with hours extending into the evening. Having an urgent care center will augment UF Health’s presence in the area, which includes the Eastside family medicine practice on Waldo Road.

Future development at the site may go well beyond the urgent care center. A new city-run bus transfer station is in the early planning stages. A community garden that allows residents to grow or pick healthy food is being considered. Officials are hopeful that the site will help fulfill other longtime community needs: jobs, housing and a neighborhood grocery store. The site adjoins the Gainesville Technology Entrepreneurship Center’s high-tech incubator and housing is under development nearby.

"This development will eliminate a health care desert. It also has the potential to close a job desert, a housing desert and a food desert. There’s a lot of things this collective development will do as it grows out over the next decade,” said Brad Pollitt, UF Health Shands’ vice president of facilities.

It’s no secret that East Gainesville has lacked convenient access to urgent medical care, a grocery store and community amenities commonly found in other areas. An urgent care center in East Gainesville also potentially benefits residents who live in areas farther to the east.

“Alachua County is proud to join with the city of Gainesville to pay for the construction of this much-needed facility, and we are excited to work with clinic operator UF Health. This is a great day for the future of health care in eastern Alachua County,” said Anna Prizzia, chair of the Alachua County Commission.

Gainesville Mayor Harvey Ward Jr. said the chance to work with UF Health, Alachua County and the federal government is a special opportunity.

“While I’m excited about the near-term, positive effects of a health clinic on Hawthorne Road, the farther-reaching economic health and general quality of life improvements for our ‘out east’ neighbors are more than anyone could have predicted a couple of years ago. We are looking at an all-in public investment exceeding $25 million in a relatively short period of time, not including what the city has already invested nearby at Heartwood and Cornerstone. I am thrilled to see this moving forward for our neighbors and I’m anticipating the private sector stepping up for East Gainesville as well,” he said.

Work is also underway to bring Gainesville Fire Rescue’s Community Resource Paramedicine Program, or CRP, to the urgent care center site. The CRP aims to reduce overuse of paramedic and emergency room services by pairing frequent 911 users and other vulnerable patients with resources to help them better manage their care. There were 423 referrals to the program in 2022 and the team provided 179 vaccinations and 80 monoclonal antibody treatments while having 2,545 engagements with residents. As of 2022, the program has grown to focus on four main areas: chronic disease management, community health, recovery response and homelessness outreach and prevention.

With a public transit hub close to a medical facility, the site will be well-positioned to address other needs, said Lakesha M. Butler, Pharm.D., chief diversity officer for UF Health. A community room can host many health education and other pertinent programs, including topics of healthy eating, mental health and diabetes education. The site will offer expanded services not typically found at an urgent care center with the goal of tailoring services to meet the needs of the community. Officials held multiple community forums earlier this year to solicit residents’ input.

“Ideally, this complex will not just focus on health care but on factors that affect the health and holistic well-being of people in our community,” Butler said.

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Doug Bennett
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