The medical provider that runs the Guilford County Evans-Blount Community Health Center in east Greensboro has informed the county that it is pulling out.

Carter’s Circle of Care, the healthcare provider for the county-owned clinic at 2031 Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. has run the clinic since mid-2014, but now the county will have to find a new provider.

Guilford County Health Director Merle Green said this week that Ron Carter, a co-owner and CEO of Circle of Care, made her aware of that company’s decision.

Green said it was her understanding that a mental health clinic that Carter also ran – one right next to the Evans-Blount clinic – was purchased from Carter by another health provider, and that was the key factor that led to Carter’s decision that Circle of Care would stop providing services at Evans-Blount.

“He said it was bittersweet having to make this tough decision,” Green said.

Under the terms of the contract between Guilford County and Circle of Care, either party can terminate the agreement with a 90-day notice. Circle of Care is expected to fulfill the three-month term of its out clause. Green said she expects the county will find a new provider and there will be a “smooth transition” of services to the new company.

Green also said the county is currently in talks with the provider that is buying the mental health clinic next to Evans-Blount, but she added that the holidays have made it difficult to advance those discussions and that the talks would continue in the new year.

Guilford County opened the Evans-Blount clinic in November 2010 to provide health care to low-income residents in that area, as well as to other county residents who had trouble getting care elsewhere. Proponents of the move argued that the 27406 zip code, where the clinic is located, had no doctor’s offices, hospitals or urgent care facilities, and said the county would benefit greatly if there was a convenient and affordable health clinic to serve that population.   The clinic is named for two prominent black physicians who provided care in east Greensboro for much of the 20th century – Dr. George Evans and Dr. Alvin Blount Jr. The two men attended the grand opening celebration of the clinic in 2010.

Guilford County Commissioner Ray Trapp said this week that Guilford County is fully committed to the clinic and to providing those health services to residents in that area. He said the clinic serves people who may lack adequate transportation or funds to get medical care elsewhere, and he pointed out that the patients do pay what they can afford.

“It’s not a free clinic,” Trapp said. “It helps people who don’t have Medicaid or Medicare. These are people who fall through the cracks.”

Trapp said Carter’s withdrawal was especially disappointing since there was a feeling that things had been going well at the clinic and more people have been using the service. In August 2016, the Guilford County Board of commissioners heard a presentation from Green, Carter, patients and others involved with the clinic, during which they spoke of the clinic’s success and its importance to that community. The presentation also contained information about an expansion of services planned for the clinic.

Green said this week that hopefully the change to a new provider, whoever that might be, will essentially go unnoticed by the clinic’s patients once a provider is found.

“We expect a smooth transition,” she said,

She added that, ideally, “at midnight” in the near future, Circle of Care will exit and another provider will be in place ready to open shop the following day.

When the clinic was first starting up, the county struggled mightily to find a provider. The county commissioners approved funds for the clinic in 2008, but it was late 2010 before the county could get it up and running.   One reason for that was Guilford County’s inability to find a provider, and the county eventually signed up Prison Health Services (PHS) to do the job – the same company that was providing health care in the county’s jail system at the time.

Under Guilford County’s model for the clinic, no money changes hands between the county and the provider. Instead, Guilford County essentially subsidizes the clinic by paying rent and giving other forms of support, which encourages a provider to offer services in an area that county officials say has been overlooked.

Green said she’s hopeful that an agreement can be reached with the healthcare provider that’s purchasing Carter’s mental health service next door. She said she would like to see the same health company also run Evans-Blount. She declined to name that company.

Green said one reason Guilford County would like to arrange an agreement with the new proprietor of the mental health clinic next to Evans-Blount is to continue the collaboration between the two facilities. She said that there’s more and more recognition in the medical community that the two types of services – physical health and mental health – go hand in hand since, for patients, one is connected to the other. She also said that, in the past, the physical and mental healthcare services have been done “in silos,” but the county was attempting now to offer more care that wove the two together.

“We’re doing cutting-edge care,” Green said of the new model.

The current three-year contract between the county and Circle of Care, signed in June 2014, was supposed to be in effect until June 30, 2017, and by all indications the county had hoped to renew the contract with Circle of Care.

Over the last two years, Evans-Blount clinic was expanding from physical health services – such as exams, immunizations, medical tests and treatment for bodily ailments – to more services related to mental health and behavioral health, substance abuse treatment, medication management and specialized veteran-care treatment such as care for head trauma and post traumatic stress disorder. Veterans’ concerns and opiate addiction have been in the forefront in Guilford County in recent years and the demand for those types of services has been high.

In 2008, when funding for the clinic was approved by the Guilford County Board of Commissioners, the opening of the facility looked like it was just a formality or two away from being a done deal. At that time, Moses Cone Health System appeared ready to run the clinic. Moses Cone had an ongoing relationship with Guilford County and the two had worked together on many joint healthcare ventures. However, in late 2008, after the financial crisis, Moses Cone and Guilford County were unable to reach an agreement as to who should pay how much to run the clinic. The county eventually chose PHS, the only provider it could find. According to several sources at that time, the county greatly ticked off Cone officials when the county abandoned negotiations with Cone and went with PHS.

At that point, PHS had never run a clinic outside of a jail or prison, and the company became a focal point of controversy when the media raised questions about the care the company was providing in jails and prisons across the country. The clinic also saw major delays due to construction and renovation problems at the site.

At that time, Commissioner Carolyn Coleman, one of the major proponents of the clinic, stated, “My God, I’m frustrated – because everywhere I go people ask me about it and I don’t know what to say.”