New Satcher clinic proposal among plans on Rescue Act wish list

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Jul. 1—Depending on how you look at it, COVID-19 has either saved or killed Anniston's ambitious plans to create a medical facility to honor famous native Dr. David Satcher.

City officials in June said they are thinking of spending $750,000 of the city's $13 million in federal aid from the American Rescue Plan Act to fix up the old Glen Addie Community Center and turn it into a medical clinic that would serve the uninsured — an institution that would bear the name of Satcher, who grew up in Anniston and went on to become U.S. surgeon general.

It's a far cry from the $18.9 million complex some Satcher Institute advocates had hoped to see spent on the site, and it may be a sign of how the Rescue Plan windfall can force city leaders to get serious — and realistic — about their wish lists.

"If you have a vision, that's great, but you have to have a way to make it work," said Ciara Smith, Anniston's vice-mayor and councilwoman for Ward 3.

The City Council in 2019 first gave the nod to an effort to honor Satcher with an institution that would check several boxes for close watchers of Anniston and its problems.

The plan was to erect a building at the former location of the Chalk Line textile mill, site of an extensive environmental cleanup.That building would include a clinic, a museum dedicated to Anniston's history of industrial pollution and racial health care inequities, and possibly an auditorium where events and classes could be held.

WINDFALL

Anniston is getting $13 million in federal COVID relief funds. In an occasional series, The Anniston Star looks at what's on the city's wishlist.

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The plan had support from Satcher, the doctor who grew up in a segregated Anniston, became the first Black person to run the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and U.S. Surgeon General under the Clinton administration. Satcher's name, ideally, would draw big-dollar donors to help with the project.

While the council set aside $250,000 to get the project started, some expressed skepticism about whether the full $18.9 million plan would ever be completed.

"No one had the guts to say, 'We cannot do this right now,'" Smith said.

The new post-pandemic plan checks a different set of boxes. Council members have long hoped to refurbish the closed Glen Addie center, and in 2019 they set aside $330,000 to renovate the building in order to turn it into a one-stop shop and warming center for the city's homeless — helping fill the gap that opened when the Salvation Army closed its shelter for men.

That money plus the proposed boost from coronavirus aid would give the city more than $1 million to spend turning the site into a clinic to treat uninsured and underinsured people.

Smith this week said that the clinic would likely also include showers and bathrooms that homeless people could use, and could double as a warming shelter on nights when a shelter is needed.

The money would come from a massive aid package passed by Congress to help cities and counties get back on their feet after the pandemic. There are restrictions on that money, but the clinic — dedicated to public health — could be one of the easiest projects to get past federal gatekeepers.

"If you provide treatment in the community, it's a more efficient use of health care dollars long term," said Nanette Mudiam, who runs the nonprofit St. Michael's Medical Clinic, which provides free health care to people in downtown Anniston.

Mudiam said she doesn't see any overlap in services between St. Michael's and the proposed Satcher clinic, which she said will likely operate on days when St. Michael's isn't open.

She said there are thousands of people in Calhoun County who are uninsured, partly because Alabama hasn't expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act the way some other states have. While "there's nothing set in stone," Mudiam said, it's likely doctors from St. Michael's would also work at the Satcher clinic.

Not all of the early supporters of a Satcher institute are happy with the retreat from the larger plan, or from the Chalk Line site. Former City Councilman David Reddick said the council is now thinking too small.

"The original plan was to have a facility that was state-of-the-art and would help the city overall," Reddick said. He noted that the original proposed site was near the Ladiga Trail, the hike-and-bike route that's at the center of so many of the city's development plans. He said the prospects for attracting donors were good.

Smith, the councilwoman, said it makes sense to get started now, with the money that's available now.

"You have to start somewhere," she said.

Capitol & statewide reporter Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.

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