Park Center seeks Legacy fund’s help to buy, upgrade central Fort Wayne clinic

The Lafayette Medical Building, 2700 S. Lafayette St., is about 75 percent empty now but that could soon change. (News-Sentinel file photo)

A Fort Wayne mental-health agency is asking for a grant from the city’s Legacy fund that would allow it to convert the mostly vacant Lafayette Medical Center into an innovative “integrated care clinic” serving central Fort Wayne.

Park Center on Thursday is expected to ask the Legacy Joint Funding Committee for $700,000 of the $2.4 million needed to buy and renovate the 24-year-old facility at Lafayette and Pontiac streets. Park Center, which opened as the Mental Health Center at Fort Wayne in 1967, has already used $533,000 from the Lutheran Foundation and St. Joe Community Health Foundation to hire a physician and advanced practice nurse to provide primary care at the site and to equip and renovate the lower floor.

According to the application, the planned second phase will see the agency buy the building from a group of investors and make renovations before providing a variety of new services assuring that “central Fort Wayne will once again have a valued medical resource that is well utilized by the community and is a base from which several outreach initiatives can be launched.”

The goal is to create a patient-centered medical home (PCMH), where primary care, psychiatric services, care coaches and others work together to promote patients’ overall health, not just respond to illness. Plans include a partnership between Park Center and seven universities wanting to use the location as a practice site for various medical specialties, which the application states could offer services “without concerns about paying providers. Students can provide low/no-cost supportive services, as long as low/no-cost building space is available.”

An OB/GYN group has also committed to operating there, and Park Center will work to recruit or partner with a pediatric practice, helping to “impact the abysmal infant mortality rate in the surrounding neighborhoods.” The new services could open over the next two years, pending the success of fundraising efforts.

The application notes the project coincides with other improvements in the neighborhood, including the city’s Renaissance Pointe Housing initiative and the just-begun conversion of the former Coke plant on Pontiac into housing. The upgraded Lafayette clinic would generate about $4 million in federal medical support annually, according to Park Center.

Combining mental-health and medical services is an effective way to treat and prevent illness, Park Center says, because depression and stress “are the two factors that are most predictive of health-care costs.” A similar approach in Missouri has saved millions of dollars, Park Center states.

The Lafayette clinic opened in 1993 amid great promise and expectations by a group of African-American doctors and a minority-owned development company, but the application notes that, “slowly providers vacated that location as they and other medical providers in central Fort Wayne moved out along the interstate … . There are now very few medical providers in south central Fort Wayne. This project will once again add a vibrant medical resource that will be viewed as a reinvestment of the infrastructure of that area. When that location is improved, it will become a very appealing ‘entrance’ to downtown Fort Wayne.”