MATTOON - Ryan West was being treated Wednesday morning after having a tough time finding a place to get medical care.

It was difficult to find care for her high blood pressure and diabetes when there aren't many medical providers accepting patients such as her, who have publicly funded insurance, she said.

"A lot of places that are accepting have a waiting list," West said.

That's why she welcomed the Wednesday opening of the Coles Community Health Center, a collaborative project by local health care agencies and other organizations to provide basic medical care for the uninsured and underinsured. She was one of 15 patients scheduled for the clinic on its first day.

"I'm relieved," West said. "I've been trying for months to get in a place."

More than 50 people signed up for services at the clinic during its three-day registration period that ended Tuesday. While some people might think the clinic won't take any additional patients, "that's not true at all," said Mike Murray, the program's president.

"We're still taking new patients," he said. "We're accepting new patients every day."

There does indeed seem to be a demand for what the clinic offers, Murray added, as patients are scheduled for services throughout this week. They also have a variety of medical reasons for wanting to come to the clinic and represent all the patient groups being targeted, he said.

"We've crossed the whole spectrum of people we're wanting to serve," Murray said.

The clinic is on the north side of 700 Broadway Avenue East, the same building that houses Premiere Video, near Cross County Mall, and can be reached by phone at 234-3091.

Its staff includes a physician's assistant, a pediatric nurse practitioner, a registered nurse and medical assistants. The clinic is designed for primary medical care for those on public assistance, without insurance or who are underinsured.

The underinsured are generally people who have insurance but with a "significant deductible," perhaps several thousand dollars, said Barbara Dunn, chief executive officer of the Community Health Improvement Center in Decatur, which is collaborating with the Coles County program.

The clinic wants patients, except those on Medicare or Medicaid, to make a $10 co-payment for services, Dunn said. Fees are based on federal poverty income guidelines, she said.

Dunn described the clinic as "a great community effort" and noted the number of patients already using it.

"It's something the community wants," she said.

Being affiliated with the Decatur facility means the clinic can bill Medicaid at an enhanced rate and provide federal coverage for providers' malpractice insurance.|238-6858

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