Community health center serving Savannah’s homeless, uninsured moves to larger facility


SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — Staff members at the J.C. Lewis Primary Health Care Center are preparing to expand their community reach with a move into a new, larger home. 

J.C. Lewis, which opened in 1999, is a federally qualified health center that offers affordable services to the homeless community and people with or without insurance, regardless of their ability to pay. The health center serviced over 12,700 patients in 2019.

Brandon Gaffney, chief executive officer for the not-for-profit health center, says J.C. Lewis works to combat homelessness from two fronts. “We attack homelessness from those who are currently homeless and we attack it by trying to prevent people from becoming homeless,” Gaffney told WSAV NOW.

“It’s no secret that a third of all homeless individuals are such because of a health care issue, either the costs or expenses associated with their health issue, or just a health issue itself,” he said, adding, “We play a vital role in helping Savannah stay healthy economically as well as medically.”

Gaffney says the relocation from J.C. Lewis’s office at 125 Fahm St. to a more spacious building near Oglethorpe Mall has been a project four years in the making.

“Parking is always an issue for our patients and staff, visitors for meetings,” Gaffney said. Finding a space to park will likely be far less of a problem, as the new facility offers 150 parking spots.

He says of about 77,000 patients that qualify for the health center’s services in Chatham County, around 39,000 of them live within five miles of their new location at 5 Mall Way in Savannah. 

The health center’s new home is 14,000 square feet, about 4,000 feet larger than its current location.

Gaffney says Choate Construction was hired to complete the renovation. “This building was gutted and then built out on the inside to fit the medical facility,” he said.

The project is 99% complete, Gaffney adds. J.C. Lewis staff members have already started the moving process and have accepted dental patients at the new office for the past two weeks.

“We plan on moving [through] November and having our grand opening in early December,” Gaffney said.

The new facility will include:

  • 15 exam rooms
  • two procedure rooms
  • six dental operatories
  • telehealth services
  • optometry services
  • behavioral health/psychiatry services
  • and radiology and ultrasound services.

“We provide obstetrical services, nutrition services and case management services,” said Dr. Rena Douse, family nurse practitioner and chief operations officer at the J.C. Lewis Primary Health Care Center.

J.C. Lewis’s new building will also house a new pharmacy.

“We’re excited about that,” Douse told WSAV NOW. “It’s a service that we’ll be able to provide for our patients on site, it will be a one-stop shop, they can get their specialty services here as well as their primary care and pharmacy services.”

She adds that the health care center’s overall mission is affordable health care for all.  

“We service everyone, it doesn’t matter if you don’t have insurance, we’re here for the community,” Douse said.

“We accept insurance, as well, just bring your proof of income along with your photo identification, and we’ll walk you through the steps of what you need to get the services that you need here,” she said.

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