MedNorth Health Center has been planning for an expansion of its facility for the past three years and has recently completed steps for a renovation and expansion of the center, according to officials.
The $28 million project will allow the facility, 925 N. Fourth St., to expand access to existing and new services including family medicine, pediatrics, obstetrics, gynecology, dentistry, podiatry, integrated behavioral health, substance use disorder medication-assisted treatment and on-site pharmacy and lab specimen collection, plus new services for mammograms, X-rays, bone density, vision and physical and occupational therapy.
The new construction is slated to add about 30,000 square feet to the site. About 20,000 square feet will be built as a second floor over an existing parking lot, creating a total of 47 exam rooms and 13 dental operatories.
Thomas Construction Group is serving as the general contractor on the project, with Becker Morgan Group as the architectural firm.
“Our mission is to provide quality primary care services. With a waitlist over the last year of 1,000 plus patients, the expansion facilitates access and the provision of the service,” MedNorth CEO Althea Johnson said.
MedNorth, formerly New Hanover Community Health Center Inc., was incorporated as a nonprofit in North Carolina receiving a 501(c)(3) classification in 1993.
The center saw its first patient in the spring of 1994 and has been in continuous service since then, adding MedNorth Health Center as a dba (doing business as) in 2013.
The center has been operating out of the current building for 25 years and has completed numerous renovations – adding exam rooms, modifying closets to serve as offices, adding cubicles to waiting rooms and relocating staff offsite to allow for more patient care areas. Despite these efforts, the center remains insufficient for patient demand.
Forty percent of patients at MedNorth are uninsured, 35% are Medicaid eligible, 9% are Medicare eligible and 17% are privately insured, officials said.
With the passing of Medicaid expansion in North Carolina, the need for additional space at the clinic is more evident as 17,000 people in New Hanover County are estimated to qualify.
MedNorth Health Center is the only federally qualified health center in the county and receives federal grant funds awarded by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HSRA). Patients receive services regardless of ability to pay.
In 2022, MedNorth Health Center provided services to 7,132 patients. The clinic expects that number to increase to 10,000 by the time the new building is ready to accept patients.
With the new build and the update to the existing facility, MedNorth estimates the annual number of patients served will increase to 18,000 within the next five years, and officials expect the patient demographics to remain consistent.
About 31% of MedNorth’s patients identify as Hispanic or Latino, 33% as Black or African American and 34.5% as white. Additionally, 27% of MedNorth’s patients experience language barriers for which MedNorth uses bilingual staffing and on-demand language video translation for medical, dental, behavioral health and pharmaceutical care.
With the expansion, MedNorth intends to hire a range of new employees in about 60 new jobs while retaining 120 jobs. The new jobs will include medical providers and medical assistants, nurses, mental health and behavioral health treatment providers, case managers, patient support staff and administrative staff including finance and billing and facility management.
MedNorth recently become a work-study site for undergraduate students from the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Dedicated space has been allocated in the new building to maintain training programs that enable third-year residents from UNC School of Medicine Wilmington Campus to undertake rotations in pediatrics, OBGYN, and family medicine, and for clinical rotations for Cape Fear Community College dental hygiene, pharmacy technician and Certified Medical Assistant programs.
The decision to allocate space for medical training is significant to MedNorth’s retention and recruitment efforts preparing clinical professionals for future roles in primary care upon graduation, officials said.
MedNorth is expecting to obtain permits in February and start construction mid-March. TThe project is expected to wrap up in September 2025 and will employ about 200 construction workers.
MedNorth raised $7 million for the project. In late December, the New Hanover Community Endowment announced that it was awarding MedNorth $2 million to support the expansion.
MedNorth is selecting a financial adviser to assist in soliciting a lender for a capital campaign bridge loan and expects to identify all financing partners by the end of this year. Based on the timing of finalized designs and permits, the project is currently anticipating a financial close in the first quarter of 2024.
“My biggest dream is to provide service on demand without long wait times,” Johnson said. “Our target population expects to be seen when they come for service, and I want to remove as many barriers to service as operationally feasible.”
Correction: This version of the story corrects MedNorth's address, which is 925 N. Fourth St.