Guilford County’s Evans-Blount Community Health Center has found a new provider and the clinic will continue operations without interruption after getting word in December that Carter’s Circle of Care, the former provider, was pulling out of its contract.

On Wednesday, Feb. 1, the clinic’s operations were turned over to Triad Medical Group PA, a collective of medical associates headed up by CEO Dr. Richard Pavelock.

Late last year, Circle of Care informed Guilford County that it was exercising a 90-day out-option in its contract to run the clinic, which is primarily focused on delivering health care to low-income clients in East Greensboro and the surrounding area.

The new provider won’t be starting from scratch, however. Last year, Triad Medical Group bought Circle of Care, and Triad Medical is expected to keep the same staff that’s been running the Evans-Blount clinic at 2031 Martin Luther King Jr. Dr.

Guilford County Health Director Merle Green said she was very pleased with the new agreement, especially since Triad Medical Group also runs a mental health clinic next door to Evans-Blount. Green said the two clinics now under the same owner should be able to cooperate well and provide better health outcomes to Evans-Blount clinic patients by working together. In recent years, Green and her department have stressed the connection between mental health and physical health and the need for both problems to be addressed simultaneously when patients require both types of care.

The new contract calls for Triad Medical Group to operate the clinic from Feb. 1, 2017 to Feb. 1, 2018, while the county’s previous contract with Circle of Care was for three years. That provider was in the last year of the contract when it pulled out.

According to Green, the clinic has a staff of about eight people who work with patients in some way, and the clinic now boasts a full-time doctor. Until recently, that doctor would only be there on certain days, while nurses and other staff provided care on those days when the doctor wasn’t on site.

Green said she expects a smooth and seamless transition to the new provider and that, so far at least, there haven’t been any major hurdles or hiccups. She added that, ideally, clinic clients won’t even notice the change. She also said that Triad Medical Group, with their associations, would be able to easily turn cases over to specialists when needed.

She said that, even though the county expects no changes in personnel, that wasn’t the county’s call.

“Any new provider has the right to make changes,” Green said.

For the time being, however, it looks like the main visible difference is that the name of the provider will change but not much else.

Guilford County Attorney Mark Payne said this week that the contract between the county and the new provider is very similar to the Carter’s Circle of Care contract, with the exception that, in the new contract, the county and the provider can pull out of the agreement with one month’s notice.

“The new contract has a 30-day no-fault termination clause as opposed to a 90-day one in the prior contract,” he said.

Under the new agreement, like the old one, Guilford County gives the provider a free place to practice and pays utility and maintenance costs. The provider keeps the proceeds from patients, who pay for the services through Medicaid, Medicare or on a sliding scale determined largely by what the patient can afford. That arrangement makes it more affordable for a provider to operate in a section of the county that didn’t have a health clinic until the county stepped in eight years ago and opened Evans-Blount.

Even though the county just signed a new contract, the commissioners have indicated that they will explore other options in the future, which is one reason the one-year contract is shorter than usual. In fact, the proposed new contract that came before the commissioners was originally written to last until June 2018, but the commissioners shaved that time down to one year to give them more options sooner. Payne said that county contracts are often set to run through June 30, so as to be aligned with the county’s fiscal years, but he said that, from a legal standpoint, that was only a small consideration.

Commissioner Carolyn Coleman said she was disturbed that everything happened in such a whirlwind that the commissioners were unable to go through a normal selection process for a new service provider. Guilford County will usually put out a request for bids and then pick the provider best suited for the project with price as a major consideration.

“We only had a month to do it,” Coleman said of finding a new provider in this case, adding that this wasn’t the first time that type of thing had happened with county service contracts and other projects. She said county staff has a habit of coming to the commissioners at the 11th hour and that often forces the board’s hand.

“This has happened so many times and we’ve had to do things at the last minute,” Coleman said.

Guilford County Commissioner Ray Trapp said the Evans-Blount clinic, which is in his district, provides an essential service to that community and he said if it weren’t for the clinic many of those patients wouldn’t be able to get convenient and affordable health care. Trapp said he wants to see an end to provider turnover that’s been happening fairly frequently.

“One of the things that Evans-Blount needs is stability,” Trapp said. “We’ve been through a list of providers in the years since it’s been open.”

He also said the county should carefully consider different models of operation as well as other providers, but added that that’s “not to say we don’t stay with this provider in the future.”

Trapp said a more relaxed process that allowed the time to do it right would at least give the county a chance to explore other – perhaps better – options.

“We’re really caught in this dilemma,” Trapp said. “Whether to continue services – we really had no choice. We didn’t have time to put it out to a provider, Evans-Blount is a valuable, valuable, valuable resource for that community, but in order to get it where it needs to be, there has to be continuity and there has to be stability.”

Trapp said the fact that this is a one-year contract puts everyone on notice and said it adds “some immediacy and some urgency” to the process and allows the board to consider new options fairly soon. Trapp also said the one-year contract has the benefit of “not leading this provider on to let them think otherwise.”