By Tim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
The consortium planning to create a community health center in Havre is holding a forum Tuesday to ask - and answer - the question, "What is a community health center and what do we need to do to get there from here?"
The Hill County Health Consortium said the center would offer primary care, as well as dental and mental health care to people with little or no insurance.
Cindy Smith, director of nursing for the Hill County Health Department, said the consortium is applying for two federal grants to cover the costs of opening the center. Last year the consortium applied for one of 38 federal grants awarded in 2004 by the federal government to fund community clinics and was turned down. This year the consortium is applying for one of 10 primay grants and for a second grant, she said.
If Havre receives the primary grant, it would be awarded every year as long as the clinic continued to meet the requirements of the program, she said.
The clinic would bill patients on a sliding-fee scale depending on their ability to pay, and donations and fund-raisers would have to make up some of the clinic's costs, she said.
"Your community has to work to keep it if they want it," she said.
She said the Montana State Primary Care Association will help Havre write the grant application, and will be at the forum Tuesday to ask and answer questions.
"We have to redefine our needs and goals," Smith said.
Hill County Commissioner Doug Kaercher said public meetings held so far show people want to know more about the issue.
"I think it's certainly something that sparks people's interest, in that they see a void in the services," he said.
Coalition member Arlys Williams, a pediatric nurse practitioner at Northern Montana Medical Group, said the goal of the consortium is to add services not available now.
"We're just trying to complement what is here, rather than act in competition," she said.
Smith said no one has spoken in opposition to the health center.
"Some people aren't sure about it," she added.
She said that group includes some of the medical practitioners in the area.
Northern Montana Medical Group president and chief executive officer David Henry signed a memorandum of agreement with the consortium to investigate opening a community health center, she said. Representatives of the medical group have attended all of the consortium's meetings, she said.
She said the existing medical facilities simply can't meet all of the needs of the community.
"They're too big for any one health care entity to answer," Smith said.