The tiny Paint Lick Family Clinic in Garrard County closed this week, but it will reopen in August as a part of the non-profit White House Clinics system.
Dr. John Belanger, who started the Paint Lick clinic in 2000, said changing economic conditions in health care were threatening its future.
But merging with White House should ensure that the clinic continues to serve patients in the Garrard-Madison County area, he said. Belanger said he'll continue working at Paint Lick, but as a White House employee.
"Actually, we were already making plans to close before we found out White House would be interested in taking us over," he said Thursday. "We're a nonprofit and so are they, so we're basically giving them our clinic and I'll work for them. They'll do the fundraising and the billing, and I'll mainly be a doctor. I think it'll be a good thing."
Belanger worked for White House for 11 years at its flagship clinic in McKee before starting the Paint Lick center.
The Paint Lick clinic closed Tuesday as a part of the ownership change. But it will re-open Aug. 11 as the new "White House Clinic Paint Lick," according to Stephanie Moore, CEO of White House Clinics.
Moore said she approached Belanger about a possible merger earlier this year, after learning that he'd sent letters to his patients outlining plans to close the Paint Lick Family Clinic at the end of April.
"People started calling me saying it would be really unfortunate for the community to lose that service," he said. "So, I called Dr. Belanger and it seemed like some of the resources we had available would align with what he hoped to continue in Paint Lick."
Moore said White House wants to add some new services, such as dental care. But Belanger's original aims will continue, she said.
"We want to make sure that we keep all that is wonderful about Dr. Belanger's clinic, because we know his patients completely love him." Moore said. "Clearly there is a need in that community for that care."
The Paint Lick Family Clinic had a certain aura of magic right from the start.
Belanger established it hoping to serve uninsured patients by offering low-cost office visits, and letting people settle their bills with weekly payments. A local woman named Dean Cornett offered free office space and even bought a lot for patient parking.
The clinic opened in the fall of 2000 in a former garage at Paint Lick, a sleepy crossroads between Lancaster and Richmond. Donations helped pay for the building and defray operating costs, and the clinic was busy from the start.
Cornett died in 2003 at age 85.
Belanger said he refuses to feel nostalgic about the upcoming change.
"That's not my nature," he said Thursday. "I just sort of keep moving forward. I could see this coming down the pike for the past couple of years."
Belanger said changes in the economics of health care make it increasingly difficult for small solo medical practices to survive. The federal Affordable Care Act, which is enabling more people to get health insurance, also was a factor in his initial decision to close the Paint Lick clinic, he said.
"The act made it possible for us to feel that we could close down and not feel like we were doing such a disservice to patients," Belanger said. "They would have more options than before."
Without the federal care act, he might have tried to hang on a few more years until he ran out of money, he said.
"As it is, we're going to keep serving the same folks as before, but we'll have a little different management to help us do that," he said. "I think it's turning out to be a pretty good result."
Moore said that with the Paint Lick Clinic coming board, White House will have a total of eight locations in Jackson, Madison, Estill, Rockcastle and Garrard counties.
White House served more than 26,300 patients last year, she said.