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by Aaron London

If it takes a village to raise a child, then plans by Flagler Health+ to build a “health village” in Palm Coast could raise Flagler County’s quality of life.

The concept, announced by the St. Augustine-based entity formerly known as Flagler Hospital last fall, is set for construction on a four-acre parcel at the corner of Matanzas Woods and Belle Terre parkways and is expected to be operational in 2022.

Jason Barrett

The health village idea was launched just under three years ago, said Flagler Health+ president and CEO Jason Barrett.

We’re excited about being in Flagler County,” he said. “We’ve served it for a long time.”

Barrett said he has held “very promising” conversations with city and county officials about the $23 million investment, expected to create more than 70 jobs with an average annual wage of $60,000.

The village will include family practice medicine along with behavioral health services, women’s care, orthopedics, imaging and laboratory services, as well as lifestyle programming such as arts activities and events.

“Part of our mission is a community mission,” Barrett said. “We believe very much in community.”

John Eaton

Even before the health village opens its doors, Flagler Health+ is already serving Flagler County, with the launching of its Care Connect+ program in April, according to John Eaton, executive director of Care Connect+

While healthcare is at the center of the effort, the Flagler Health+ vision includes efforts to impact social health and well-being, and support the community with an eye toward broader issues including housing, food security and transportation.

“It’s hard to care for your physical health if you don’t have those,” Eaton said.  “It’s all aligned with the same vision of increasing access.”

The effort arrived just in time to play a role in the response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Battling Covid and its impact on the community, we’re able to be a resource for residents in Flagler County,” Eaton said, adding Care Connect+ already has just under 300 clients. “The magic of what we do is we have community health associates that help you navigate through the community healthcare network.”

Flagler Health+ also reaches the community even more directly, with a recently opened virtual walk-in clinic at the Beach Village Publix in Flagler Beach.

With four locations already up and running in St. Johns County, the virtual clinic offers residents all the digital tools for a virtual office visit for non-emergency conditions.

The organization also recently released a mobile Anywhere App bringing a variety of services to the digital space. A Covid-19 symptom tracker is part of the app, which allows employers to log any symptoms employees might have and compiles data on a dashboard to track whether employees are showing symptoms or self-isolating.

“Our intent is thinking about healthcare at large,” Barrett said. “Beyond physical health and we are going to provide new access points in Flagler County to keep the care in the county.”

The plan also dovetails with county economic development efforts to attract life sciences industries to Flagler. In recent years the county has seen several healthcare-related companies set up shop, including Beutlich Pharmaceuticals and Designs for Health. The University of North Florida announced plans last year to create a “medical nexus” in Palm Coast’s Town Center area and Daytona State College is looking to expand its nursing program at its Palm Coast campus.

The health village idea is not new but has seen an increase in the past several years.

According to a 2014 report on healthcare village, the concept has grown in popularity. The idea offers opportunities for collaboration between public and private partners and can be a catalyst for growth. The creation of health villages can have an economic impact not only on employment growth, but on retail and housing expansion. And the growth of health villages can encourage partnerships between healthcare providers, developers and retailers in communities.

Palm Coast officials see the Flagler Health+ project not only as a boon to the city’s economic infrastructure, but a driver of development.

“It’s part of the northern area of the city where we are pretty much purely residential,” said Jason DeLorenzo, Palm Coast chief development officer. “This is kind of the first foray into commercial development there.”

DeLorenzo said the City Council recently approved an interlocal agreement for a $150 million bond with the St. Johns County industrial board.

“The city is not on the hook for any of it, but it is a requirement because the dollars are going to be spent in Palm Coast,” he said, adding the bond closing is expected in September.

“This is a really large number for a community our size,” DeLorenzo said. “There is not much like that we have seen before. It’s really showing the commitment Flagler Health+ has to the project.”

DeLorenzo said the health village concept “is the modern way healthcare is done” and is expected to attract related industries to the city.

“Other groups are looking at the area and seeing the potential here,” he said.

And he said having the investment in healthcare and life sciences will benefit the community beyond the economic stimulus it will provide.

“Whenever you have more medical options, you will have a higher quality of life,” he said.

Barrett said the health village concept is part of a larger effort not only to expand the presence of Flagler Health+ in Flagler County, but to bring  healthcare out of the traditional hospital setting.

“We believe we need to get closer to local communities,” he said.

That includes plans for free-standing emergency rooms in Flagler County.

We’ve done that in St. Johns County and we’d like to do that in Flagler,” he said. “You are going to see a more expansive Flagler Health+.”

Barrett said the focus on community health and well-being extends to economic issues, including the cost of health care.

We’re not simply looking to create hospitals and part of that is how we establish a close relationship with patients,” he said. “It is important we have a 365-day relationship with them.”

With the Flagler County project, Flagler Health+ officials anticipate bringing affordable healthcare to residents and employers.

“We have an obligation to make care more affordable and accessible to local employers,” Barrett said. “We think these investments will afford people to have more impact over their overall healthcare.”

Aaron London is a reporter and columnist who has covered business and economics for 27 years. He has worked for newspapers in Ohio and Florida and is also an adjunct professor of journalism at Daytona State College.

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