A new health care clinic will open Friday at the Avera Grassland Health Campus in Mitchell, signifying a new partnership between a pair of area entities.

Rural Health Care Inc., which has locations in seven central South Dakota communities and one in Worthington, Minnesota, will open a new clinic location at the Avera Grassland campus.

The location, which will be called Access Health — Mitchell, will be located on the first and second floors of the Avera Medical Group Family Health Center. Avera’s family medicine, internal medicine and pediatrics clinics, along with AveraNow, will transition to a Federally Qualified Health Center.

Those staff members and providers will remain employed by Avera Medical Group, and current patients will continue to see their medical providers without interruption, both entities said this week.

The federal designation means that more than 32,000 southeastern South Dakota residents will have additional access to clinics that the FQHC can provide, such as the ability to pay on a sliding-fee schedule based on income guidelines. FQHCs, under federal law, are “safety net” health care providers that deliver primary care services to all, regardless of their ability to pay or their health insurance status.

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FQHCs are community-based health care providers that receive funds from the HRSA Health Center Program to provide primary care services in underserved areas. They must meet a stringent set of requirements, including providing care on a sliding fee scale based on ability to pay and operating under a governing board that includes patients.

“Existing collaborative projects between RHCI and Avera have proven to be extremely successful in reducing barriers and increasing access to care,” said Jim Hardwick, CEO of RHCI, in a statement. “This collaboration helps assure that quality health care, including preventative care, is accessible to everyone in the region. In today’s health care environment, where serving more patients in a cost-effective manner is the goal, this collaboration brings forth the best that the two organizations have to offer with one common objective: Providing health care for all, regardless of the ability to pay.”

“Avera is always looking for ways to improve access to high-quality medical care for all patients, especially those who are vulnerable because they are uninsured or underinsured,” said Tom Clark, regional president and CEO of Avera Queen of Peace Hospital, in a news release. “We believe this will lead to a healthier population as a whole, thus having a positive impact on the Mitchell community and surrounding area.”

Hardwick did not return a message from The Daily Republic requesting additional comment on Wednesday.

Horizon Health Care provides similar services in some area communities, including Howard, Plankinton, Wessington Springs and Woonsocket, but the rest of the Mitchell area is mostly underserved for potential FQHC coverage.

RHCI has South Dakota locations in Chamberlain, Fort Pierre, Highmore, Kennebec, Murdo, Onida and Presho.