Column: Mercy Care plans greatly expanded health clinic in Chamblee

By Maria Saporta
Published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on May 29, 2015

Mercy Care is launching its most ground-breaking expansion project near Buford Highway with the help of a $4 million grant from the Joseph B. Whitehead Foundation, part of the Robert W. Woodruff family of foundations.

The new $12.6 million comprehensive medical clinic at 5134 Peachtree Road in Chamblee will serve the area’s Hispanic, elderly and lower-income population — and be conveniently located close to the Chamblee MARTA station. It will replace the clinic that Mercy Care has had at the Northeast Plaza Shopping Center since 1999.

What makes this new development unique is that Mercy Housing, an unrelated but symbiotic nonprofit organization, will buy half the site and build 72 residences for senior citizens next door–creating a community with a myriad of support services for both residents and the greater neighborhood.

“I don’t know of anything like this that exists anywhere else in Atlanta,” said Tom Andrews, president of Atlanta-based Mercy Care, who added that the clinic on Buford Highway was already bursting at the seems when he joined the nonprofit in 2003.

Mercy Care has raised $9.6 million of the total project cost, and the Whitehead grant is contingent on the health-care provider being able to raise the remaining $3 million by the end of the year, according to Bonnie Hardage, president of the Mercy Care Foundation.

Part of the challenge is explaining the restructuring that has occurred in the last several years with Mercy Care and St. Joseph’s Hospital.

The Catholic hospital was founded in 1880 by four Sisters of Mercy to address the needs to rebuild Atlanta following the Civil War. When the hospital moved to Sandy Springs in the late 1970s, $1 million was set aside from the proceeds of the sale to serve the inner city poor. That evolved into the formation of Mercy Care in 1985–the philanthropic arm of the hospital.

But in 2011, St. Joseph’s Hospital decided to become part of Emory Healthcare for its own economic viability. Mercy Care and the Mercy Care Foundation then became independent from the Hospital–needing to broaden community support and focus its efforts on raising funds for providing health-care services for the poorest and most vulnerable residents in Atlanta, including the homeless.

Mercy Care is the only heath center in Atlanta designated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as a Health Care for the Homeless provider, receiving federal funding for those services.

Of the 12,000 patients who received health care from the nonprofit in 2014, 66 percent were homeless and 93 percent were uninsured.

The new clinic in Chamblee will permit Mercy Care to double its annual capacity. The 50,000-square-foot facility will have dental, vision, diagnostics, medical (including behavioral health services) and clinical assessments on the ground floor. The second floor will have a health and wellness educational center to assist individuals with nutrition, exercise, how to cook healthy meals, parenting classes and other community-based programs.

Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta also will serve the pediatric population in the area, following Mercy Care’s belief that it is always better to work with as many partners as possible, Andrews said.

The Whitehead grant continues a longstanding relationship that the Woodruff Foundation has had with Mercy Care. Andrews said that in 2001, the foundation gave Mercy Care $1 million to purchase property at 424 Decatur St. for its main clinic and administrative headquarters. Then in 2009, the foundation gave the nonprofit another $2 million gift that allowed it to buy adjacent property and double its Decatur Street facility.

Saving Sweet Briar

Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson says going to Sweet Briar College in Virginia changed her life. Now she’s trying to save Sweet Briar.

In March, the key leaders of the college announced the women’s liberal arts college would be closing its doors in August – saying that there was an unsustainable draw on its endowment.

“No one had heard anything about it,” said Tomlinson, who graduated from Sweet Briar in 1987 after she impulsively decided to go to the Virginia college instead of going to Georgia Tech and studying chemical engineering.

Since then, the alumnae of Sweet Briar have been on a mission to save their college. Tomlinson and her husband had just pledged to give the college $1 million — without being told of the financial issues (there’s now three related lawsuits against the college for its decision).

On Sunday, April 26, working with the Atlanta-based fundraising firm of Alexander Haas, Tomlinson held a Save Sweet Briar event at the Druid Hills home of Heather Ewing (Class of 1991).

Tomlinson committed to donate $25,000 over five years to save the college, but said she would double that if 25 other people would meet that challenge. The Atlanta event ended up raising more $1 million within three weeks — and it helped launch a “Save Sweet Briar” movement.

So far, friends of the college have raised $15 million toward a goal of $20 million to keep the college open and to take over the governance of the institution.

Tomlinson, who became an attorney specializing in corporate corruption before running for mayor of Columbus, strongly believes the “Save Sweet Briar” advocates will win at least one of the three lawsuits.

Meanwhile, she said Atlanta has played a big part in the effort.

“The Atlanta fundraiser was seismic because it really showed the possibility that this cobbled-together group can do this,” she said. “It showed women can write huge checks, that broad commitment started in Atlanta.”

GRA and David Allen

When the Georgia Research Alliance celebrated its 25th anniversary on May 21 (a couple of weeks early), business leader Dr. J. David Allen, and his wife, Beverly, made a special gift for the occasion–a $1 million donation.

Mike Cassidy, president of the Alliance, said it was the first gift of its kind that the public-private partnership has received–from individuals wanting to support the organization’s mission to promote research and development in the state.

The $1 million gift will go to advance R&D related to cellular manufacturing at Emory University, Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of Georgia. This gift will create a unique partnership that will accelerate collaboration, stimulate innovation and help establish Georgia as a leader in cellular manufacturing, according to GRA spokeswoman Amanda Schroeder.

At the anniversary luncheon, David Allen said he and his wife believed in the work that the Alliance had been doing for the past 25 years, and he wanted to be sure it would continue to help the state for the next 25 years.

New executive director for youthSpark

The nonprofit youthSpark has named Alex Trouteaud, a renowned researcher of child sex trafficking, as its new executive director.

The 13-year-old Atlanta-based nonprofit has been advocating for children who lack legal and adult protection in abusive and exploited situations.

Physically located within the Fulton County Juvenile Court building, youthSpark provides unique insights and relationships to effect systemic change – envisioning a world where no girl or boy can be bought, sold, or abused.

Trouteaud, a well-known researcher and advocate in exposing the sex trafficking of minors, has a Ph.D. in applied sociology from Baylor University. He has spearheaded research into the incidence, attitudes and behavioral issues relating to the sex trafficking of minors in Georgia. His work has contributed to statewide legislative policy changes, stiffer laws for predators, exposing the sex trafficking of minors, and identifying solutions to address victimization.

“Alex is a terrific fit for next phase of youthSpark,” said Jennifer Pendergast, chair of youthSpark’s board.

Jewish Women’s Fund

The Jewish Women’s Fund of Atlanta is granting $100,000 to 15 programs that expand opportunities for Jewish women and girls.

The grantees, located both in Atlanta and throughout Israel, share Fund’s mission to promote social change through a gender lens. There were 82 trustees, all female philanthropists from the greater Atlanta area, who participated in the hands-on collective grantmaking experience. JWFA is a proud philanthropic partner of Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta.

Among the Georgia organizations to receive grants were The Jewish Educational Loan Fund–Interest-Free Loans for Secondary Education; Jewish Family and Career Services–Shalom Bayit Teen Domestic Violence Prevention Initiative; Jewish Interest Free Loan of Atlanta–Women in Crisis Fund; Jewish Women International–Education on Dating Abuse and Sexual Assault; Kol Israel Haverim–Cracking the Glass Ceiling; Limmud Atlanta & Southeast–Resetting Jewish Women’s Body & Self Images; and William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum–Girls Lead: A Theater-Making Workshop.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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