GONZALES — A local health clinic born eight years ago in a partnership between St. Elizabeth Hospital in Gonzales and the Ascension Parish government has doubled its space to better serve residents who don't have health insurance. 

Former office space in the Ascension Parish Health Unit off Worthey Road in Gonzales has been converted to a reception area, four patient exam rooms — previously there were only two — and a larger lab for medical testing for the St. Elizabeth Community Clinic that's been housed at the parish health unit since 2009.

"They love it, they absolutely love it," Paula Julian, nurse practitioner, said of her patients' appreciation of the new space.

Julian and another nurse practitioner, Kristin Martin, rotate to see patients at the community clinic on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The medical director for the St. Elizabeth Community Clinic is Dr. James D'Antoni.  

The Ascension Parish Health Unit offers residents immunizations; pregnancy testing; family planning services; nutritional services for women, infants and children; and testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases.

The St. Elizabeth Community Clinic there offers routine treatment, on a sliding-scale fee basis, for uninsured parish residents, ages 10 and up, with common short-term health problems or long-lasting illnesses that can be managed on an outpatient basis.

The health unit sees about 2,500 patients each month, and the community clinic each month sees about 200 patients, many of them the working poor without public or private insurance, said Kyle Gautreau, communications director for the parish government.

The ability of medical staff in the parish health unit and in the community clinic "to refer folks (to practitioners) literally across the hall from each other is the beauty of the partnership," Gautreau said. 

Another resource, the Ascension Parish Counseling Center, is adjacent to the Parish Health Unit. Under the umbrella of the health unit, the center offers individual and group counseling and treatment for addictive disorders.

The parish paid for the recent renovations of the St. Elizabeth Community Clinic, with parish employees doing much of the work, said Parish President Kenny Matassa, who was director of the parish health unit before he was elected parish president in 2015. 

"I saw every week the great good done under the partnership between Ascension Parish and St. Elizabeth, and I wanted to see its expansion happen," Matassa said. "The great thing is that I knew we had the capacity to complete most of the work ourselves."

The $25,000 renovation was started in January and completed in June. 

St. Elizabeth Hospital, part of the Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Health System, which runs Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge and other hospitals is a missions-based hospital, said Jon  Hirsch, director of marketing for St. Elizabeth.

"Part of our mission is to serve people who don't have any resources," he said.

Follow Ellyn Couvillion on Twitter, @EllynCouvillion.