EVERETT — The growing need for affordable health care in Snohomish County as the population increases has prompted a nonprofit health agency to add two Everett clinics to the five it already operates in the county.
In doing so, the Community Health Center of Snohomish County, which serves some 52,000 patients, expects to add nearly 12,000 more patients by early next year.
It currently operates clinics in Arlington, Edmonds and Lynnwood, as well as clinics in north and south Everett. All five offer medical and dental services and on-site pharmacies for clinic patients.
The two additional Everett clinics will start out offering medical care only, though dental may be added later, said Community Health Center CEO Bob Farrell.
The first of these, Providence Everett Healthcare Clinic, is already a medical clinic operating on the Everett Community College campus. It will become Everett College Clinic. It will open this week.
It is expected to bring 4,300 new patients to Community Health Center the first year, a number that’s likely to climb to 5,000 during the second year, Farrell said.
The clinic’s transfer to Community Health Center came about as a result of an increased demand for its services. Opened in 2004 to provide care for low-income and uninsured patients, the clinic in recent years had been facing financial loss as it struggled to serve a growing clientele.
A nonprofit such as Community Health Center, on the other hand, can qualify for federal grants that a hospital system cannot. While a federal multi-year grant makes up only about 9 percent of Community Health Center’s $54 million budget, Farrell said, it’s a necessary component to help the center break even. While awarded the grant again this year, it’s contingent on funding by Congress.
The second new clinic for Community Health Center will be in a three-story building previously owned by Everett Clinic on Rucker Avenue. It will become Everett Center Clinic in January, Farrell said, and is expected to bring in 7,600 patients the first year, with that number growing to 8,000 in the second year.
The clinic should take some pressure off the nonprofit’s sites, all of which are operating at or near capacity, Farrell said. It will also house administration on the third floor, easing the crunch at current administration offices on Evergreen Way and providing space for new employees, for a total of 40 office workers at the site. Medical staff, including physicians, will total 35 to 40 people, Farrell said, offering primary care and a walk-in clinic.
“We started one in Lynnwood to see how it worked and it’s worked out well,” he said, of the walk-in service, “so we’re going to try and do that in Everett. So the first floor will be a walk-in urgent-care facility and the second floor will be all primary care.”
The idea of the walk-in clinics is to give people an alternative to hospital emergency rooms, where medical care is much more expensive, Farrell said.
“That’s why we’re doing it,” he said. “For those that come home and their child is sick in the evening or whatever, they have a place to go, without having to scramble to find an appointment.”
While the majority of people the Community Health Center serves are Medicare patients or Medicaid patients with incomes at or below the federal poverty level, there are others who make too much to qualify for Medicaid but can’t afford Obamacare.
“You’ve got a lot of people that are working on their own, from hairdressers to people that just have small businesses,” Farrell said. “And they can’t figure out how to get insurance, it’s just not available. They’re not making a lot of money. So this is where we kind of fit in.”
Community Health Center clinics accept most commercial insurance, he said, and the uninsured are charged a sliding-scale fee based on income. No one is turned away because of income.
Founded in 1983 as a health-referral center that soon became a clinic in response to the county’s need, Community Health Center of Snohomish County also does outreach to provide medical services, including at the women and children’s shelter at Everett Gospel Mission, Housing Hope’s daycare facility and at Cocoon House, serving homeless and runaway teens.
All of its doctors are paid a market-based salary, Farrell said, with medical malpractice protection provided under the Federal Tort Claims Act. The center will be able to accept help from recently retired doctors who’ve been volunteering at Providence Everett Healthcare Clinic.
“They don’t want a fulltime schedule or anything like that,” he said. “They just — you know, it’s one of the reasons they went into medicine, was to help people. And this is their way of giving back while they’re retired.”
It’s an attitude that’s prevalent in the Community Health Center world, Farrell said, and has a lot to do with his reason for being, as well. He’s not a doctor and was originally hired as chief financial officer, but as a child growing up in Southern California, he suffered from serious respiratory problems that doctors did not at first know how to treat.
“I grew up kind of poor myself,” he said, “and there were some medical providers that took care of me when I got sick, that I know my parents couldn’t afford. And somehow, this provider took care of us, and I’m kind of giving back. That’s what I’m here for.”
As for future growth and what direction it might take, that’s the topic of this month’s board meeting, when discussion focuses on Community Health Center’s strategic plan.
“There’s probably some areas that we need to study in the southern part of the county,” Farrell said, “but we’re not quite sure yet until the board has decided which way to go.”
One thing that seems certain is the need for affordable health care, along with the ever-increasing population. It’s a need that fluctuates with the economy, such as in 2009-10, when many people lost their jobs.
“We were just overrun because people that had jobs before with insurance no longer had it,” Farrell said. “And so they were scrambling to try to figure out how they could obtain care. We were very, very busy during that period of time.”
On the plus side is when that scenario works in reverse, he said.
“What happens typically is, our patients will start out uninsured or we get them enrolled in Medicaid and then they obtain employment and then get insurance through their employer,” Farrell said. “And then they just stay with us because it’s not real easy to change. And so we end up with Regence or Premera but it’s a patient that started out uninsured.
“So it’s really good to see when that happens.”
The nonprofit Community Health Center of Snohomish County will hold an open house from 2 to 6 p.m. Thursday at its new Everett College Clinic at 930 N. Broadway, Everett. Light refreshments will be served.