JONESBORO — The leaky roof and moldy walls of the Clayton County Board of Health’s Battle Creek Road headquarters are no more.
Board members, including Clayton County Chairman Jeff Turner, joined Interim District Health Director Dr. Olugbenga Obasanjo and District Operations Director Keisha Dixon to give members of the media a sneak peek at the new, improved headquarters Wednesday. The grand opening is scheduled for June 1, 2020 but the first clients will likely come through the doors May 1, 2020.
Workers rolled paint on the walls and laid flooring as dignitaries picked their way through bits of construction debris and peered into restrooms where plumbing awaits fixtures.
“Even the workmen here have had people stopping them and saying, “Hi, are you back? Have you opened?” Obasanjo said.
The county had to shut down the building Feb, 8, 2018 and scattered its services across four locations after employees found a leak in the roof had spread mold into an unused office, Obasanjo said. As a result, thousands of Women Infants and Children (WIC) clients turned to neighboring counties like Henry and Fayette for services.
The closure was necessary for health reasons, Turner explained. “But the important message of today is we’re coming back. We’re not only coming back, but we’re coming back bigger and stronger with the community needs in mind. We’re going to be able to take care of not only what we had before, but expand that number, even to greater numbers. So again, it’s about the community.”
Gone are the drab white walls of the old waiting room. In their place are soothing tones, a playroom for the kids, a sound-dampened room for children with sensory issues, and space for an in-house pharmacy similar to what Kaiser Permanente provides its members. The pharmacy will not stock any opioids, Dixon said, but will encourage people with hypertension or diabetes to get their lifesaving prescriptions filled.
“We have two pharmacies, they are local to Clayton County, that are interested in the space. We’re going to rent this out to them,” Dixon explained. “We’re hoping that, in exchange for reduced rent, they will pass some of those savings on to our clients in their costs of their medication.”
The idea is to create a one-stop-shop experience for clients, many of whom rely on public transportation and book several different appointments back-to-back on a single trip. The building has been redesigned to cut down on wait times and route people to services.
“We are going to do something a little bit different and put in kid-size tables and chairs,” Dixon said. “One of the things the community talks a lot about is making sure when kids are in here that they have something to entertain them.” That includes child-compliant bean bags, games and corners for reading, technology and manipulatives “so the kids can actually play games and interact.”
Grants for programs to fight maternal and infant mortality use a community action network “to try to figure out what the problems are and then develop solutions from that,” Obasanjo said. “A lot of how we have designed this building is to take advantage of that grant.”
“We have a Healthy Generations program and it is aimed at reducing maternal mortality and getting fathers involved,” Dixon said, pointing to the “male initiative room.”
“With our fatherhood program, we have classes for our dads in Clayton County,” Obasanjo said. “So this room is solely dedicated for the purpose of interacting with our dads in Clayton County.”
A family restroom gives fathers a place to change their children’s diapers. “I noticed in our WIC clinic that we actually have a lot of dads that bring in their daughters,” Dixon said.
Special surfaces and ventilation keep germs from spreading. All countertops and nearly all the paint in the building are antifungal and antibacterial, Dixon said, pointing out special flooring in the specimen lab and tile on the bathroom walls.
People with tuberculosis, which is easily transmitted through air, will be seen in an area with a separate negative-pressure HVAC system to keep germs from being recirculated throughout the building.
Pediatric weigh-ins and temperature-taking will happen in brightly-colored rooms. A WIC kitchen will give mothers on public assistance practical advice on making healthy meals on a budget. Women who test positive for pregnancy will be connected with support services.
Employee health is also a consideration, with separate breastfeeding rooms, a workout room full of machines, men’s and women’s showers, and a dedicated walking track complete with mural. Behind the scenes are staff training rooms and offices for epidemiology and emergency response.
“In my native language, you know, when we say when God wants to put glory to a rich man’s house, he sets fire to it,” Obasanjo said. “I think that’s what happened here. This mold was us really having an opportunity to really make this a health department of the future. And this is what it’s going to be.”