Russell Medical Ribbon Cutting

Cliff Williams / The Outlook Dr. Betty Carol Graham, left, greets Melba Boyd in the healthcare center in New Site. The town partnered with Russell Medical and Jackson Apothecary to bring healthcare to New Site.

Friday almost didn’t get here for Health Partners of New Site.

Russell Medical’s Dr. Justin Vines will help staff the facility and Alexander City’s Jackson’s Apothecary will open a pharmacy in the building. The idea of a health clinic came about a decade ago and Friday was a relief. New Site Mayor Phil Blasingame couldn’t stop talking at the Friday ceremony.

“It’s a great day,” Blasingame told the crowd of dignitaries and residents gathered seeing the dream of a rural health clinic come to life. “It is something I have been looking forward to for four years.”

Blasingame said it was New Site resident Melba Boyd who kept him on the persistent path to bring the clinic to life.

“When I was campaigning one day, she was out in her yard and I stopped by to see her,” Blasingame said. “She looked at me and said, ‘What are you going to do?’ I said, ‘Well I have a plan. I would like to get us a doctor or some sort of medical facility up here.’ I could tell in the tone of her voice she wasn’t confident in my ability. ‘Yah yah.’ That kind of started it. I said after that if I got to be mayor, I got to get that done.”

Boyd never let up on pushing Blasingame, especially after the New Site senior center opened.

“She pulled me on the sleeve one day and said, ‘Mayor, where is that clinic you promised? I’m not going to be around forever, you got to get it going.’ I said we’re working on it. That happened a couple times and she let me know she was still looking for it.”

As the plans came together, Boyd checked in on the project and even contributed to it.

“As we started needing top soil for our site here, she donated it from her property at no charge,” Blasingame said. “She bought in. I knew then I had her.”

Russell Medical CEO Jim Peace said the idea of a healthcare clinic has been on the health system’s radar since 2011 but it took the persistence of Blasingame and others to get changes in federal designations for the area to make the project feasible for Russell Medical.

“We have always had a great interest in New Site,” Peace said. “When Mayor Blasingame came to us and made this possible... we were steadfast in the journey. We are glad to be here. We are here for the long haul. We are excited to be here. We hope you will appreciate the healthcare we will bring to this community.”

Blasingame credited others with helping make the clinic possible. He credited the East Alabama Planning Commission and Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA) for helping with funding. The same people helped navigate the waters in Washington D.C. as a grant was hung up in administration change four years ago.

“It went from a big pond to a big ocean; we ended up in Washington,” Blasingame said. “I got a little nervous. I started calling on all of the local politicians all the way up the ladder, Congressman (Mike) Rogers (R-Anniston). You name it we did it — anybody that would listen to us I would call and talk to them.”

ADECA director Kenneth Boswell said Blasingame was a key in the project.

“The word that best describes your mayor is persistent,” Boswell said. “I was one and can tell you persistence pays off. You’ve got a leader.”

Blasingame said former state Rep. Mark Tuggle and current state Rep. Ed Oliver (R-Dadeville) were instrumental as well in navigating the waters in Montgomery.

Blasingame said county commissioner John McKelvey helped make the project came in on budget.

“We were trying to cut the cost of the building; he came in,” Blasingame said. “One thing Jim Peace did tell me, He let me know he wanted a very nice building. So John and his department came in and did all the prep work for the site, hauled in dirt and saved us a lot of money. We want to thank him for everything he did.”

Jackson Apothecary will be the drug store in the building. Brad Jackson approached Blasingame four years ago as plans of the health clinic were coming together. Now Jackson Apothecary will open in the coming months but has a few inspections before the pharmacy can serve up prescriptions.

“The way things are set up for us to get licensed, the building had to be finished before we could get our first inspection; we have passed that with the state board of pharmacy, we have one more before the DEA license. Then we can start applying for insurance contracts. It is going to be a couple months, don’t give up on us and be patient. We will be open as soon as we can. We aren’t going to waste any time.”

Vines has been with Russell Medical for a couple years, but the clinic in New Site excites him as it will allow him to follow a dream.

“I was in med school and decided on a career in rural medicine,” Vines said. “This is a dream come true. We are trying to be neighbors to the clinic as we are trying to get here in New Site. Jim spoke of this when I was being recruited to Alex City and having the opportunity to practice in a rural area, something near and dear to my heart.”

The healthcare clinic was also championed by Dr. Betty Carol Graham, who also served in the legislature several years ago.

“She was my biggest cheerleader on this,” Blasingame said. “She would say, ‘Keep pushing, keep pushing,’”

Graham is just relieved that she and Boyd can take advantage of the clinic.

“I’m very proud of it; it makes all those long hard hours worth it,” Graham said. “Lord have mercy, it was a long process, but well worth it.”

Cliff Williams is a staff writer for Tallapoosa Publishers.