Primary care physician Dr. John Cross is in the 43-member charter club.
So are nurse manager Phaedra Hailey and registered CT technologist Chris Blair.
They're among current employees who, five years ago, opened the University of Mississippi Medical Center's Grants Ferry multispecialty clinic off Lakeland Drive in Flowood.
"We had to set everything up. The building was empty," said Hailey, who began work at Grants Ferry as lead nurse in the surgery and neurology hallway. "It was a little slow at first, but we quickly went from having empty rooms to barely having any rooms open any time now."
Today, the Grants Ferry clinic is the go-to medical care destination for thousands of residents in the Rankin County community, plus parts of the Jackson metro and surrounding counties. Not just primary care, but specialty care in areas including neurology, pediatric orthopedics, endocrinology, dermatology and sports medicine keep its exam rooms full.
The clinic sees thousands of patients per month, a volume that continues to grow, said Elizabeth Beasley, the clinic's ambulatory operations director. "And that doesn't include visits for the labs, physical therapy, and imaging services such as CT, X-ray and mammogram."
"It's been a good five years, and it's exceeded a lot of expectations," Cross said. "I live out in this area, so I'm excited to see it flourish as it has."
When UMMC made the decision to relocate a number of physicians and health-care professionals from its University Physicians operation on the main Jackson campus to Rankin County, "the initial spirit was to have a satellite clinic that would take the specialties to the community," Cross said.
Said Beasley: "We wanted to expand the ambulatory footprint, and at the same time, to serve the tri-county specific to Rankin County. We wanted to provide more ambulatory space for outpatient visits."
Kim Gladney, a radiological technologist, performs a scan on patient Henry Wood.
That goal has been accomplished, as have others that became priorities along the way. "We have an emphasis on customer experience, and we're trying to provide a customer service that's second to none," Cross said. "We've really become integrated into the community. We've built a real team approach to make the clinic have the best possible environment."
Blair said he enjoys the great working environment at Grants Ferry. "Patient load has increased. We've got some visibility, but not what we need to be. There's still room for growth," he said. "We're well respected in the community."
Cross and Beasley say patients flock to Grants Ferry not just for good medical care, but because it's convenient, accessible, and close to neighborhoods and shopping. The clinic averages about 135 employees, including providers and medical residents.
"Not having to navigate the main UMMC campus is a huge thing for our patients," Beasley said. "They like the location. They like that there are so many different specialties offered, ranging from primary care to dermatology to urology."
If Cross is a charter member at Grants Ferry, then call Randy Hoover of Durant a charter patient.
"I followed him over from the Pavilion when the clinic first opened," said Hoover, who receives his primary care from Cross. "I was happy to go to Grants Ferry. Medically, I like Dr. Cross, and everything I do stays under the umbrella of UMMC. All of my records are in the computer for the past dozen years. I don't have to explain the medicine I took eight years ago. It's there."
Grants Ferry, Hailey says, "is something totally different than anything UMMC has. It's a different feel out here.
"The people we serve come from all over the state, but it's really convenient for people coming down Highway 25 from the north part of the state and from Carthage, Louisville and Starkville," she said. "They don't have to go into town."
"Our patients and staff like what they call front-door parking," Hailey said.
Medical laboratory technician Jacqueline Bell examines patient specimens.
Hoover said his hour-long drive from Durant is well worth it.
"Parking is not a problem," Hoover said. "And now, with all of the shopping in Dogwood, it works really well for me. I left the doctor and went to the new Outback restaurant in Dogwood. In another couple of months, I'll be able to go to the new Amerigo restaurant at Grants Ferry."
The Grants Ferry clinic offers a large treatment room for in-office procedures and minor surgeries, plus a casting room for simple fractures and sprains. Surgeons at Grants Ferry schedule patients for more complicated procedures at the UMMC hospitals.
As the Medical Center this summer gains about 40 new providers, "we're adding 28 new half-days of provider visits," Beasley said. "This will put Grants Ferry at maximum capacity. It's dynamic and it changes, but it looks like we will have a pretty full house."
"We all remember how it was when it first opened, and the growing pains of trying to figure things out. There are a few differences now," Hailey said. "We're set up a little differently than at the University Physicians Pavilion on campus. We have multiple departments on the same hallway -- surgery, neurology, urology -- so the staff has to learn different disciplines."
Those at Grants Ferry work hard to build relationships with patients and with their coworkers, Hailey said. "It's a little different, because we're not as big as the Pavilion," she said. "The hallways here are very close knit because their employees work so closely together. We do a monthly birthday celebration, and we do an employee of the month. At Christmas this past year, we had a decorating contest. The patients loved it."
UMMC Grants Ferry's Dr. Charles Ouzts takes a shot at dunking Dr. Ray Rodriguez. (Photo courtesy Rod Simmons, an LPN at Grants Ferry.)
The five-year milestone was recognized through employee celebrations July 9-10 that included a cookout, ice cream social and dunking booth. Employees purchased tickets for $1 to try their hand at dunking a doctor, with proceeds going to the nonprofit Mustard Seed, a community program in Brandon for adults with developmental disabilities.
Part of the celebration included building more awareness of the clinic in the community via posters and flyers that list specialties offered, Beasley said.
"One thing that has blossomed in the last year is dermatology, and everyone's practice has improved together," Cross said. "We hope to get a pharmacy out here, and people really enjoy having a lab and X-ray here.
"Thousands of cars go by us each day, and some people still don't know we have renowned specialists right here, right in their back yard," Cross said. "We look forward to expanding and growing."