Havre-area health clinic hit bump
Havre Daily News
The effort to open a community health clinic to serve low-income and uninsured area residents was stalled for about five months, but appears to be back on track.
In a meeting Wednesday, representatives from a nonprofit organization helping Hill County with its application and U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration officals came up with possible compromises to overcome the impasse.
"We feel that we can get this to work," HRSA spokesman David Bowman said after the meeting.
The health clinic was proposed as a solution to inadequate services for the poor, particularly in the areas of mental and dental health, Hill County nurse Cindy Smith said. In order to get a federal grant to pay for the clinic, the area where the clinic will be located must be shown to be medically underserved, she said.
In January, the county asked HRSA to designate an area that includes Havre and the surrounding area as medically underserved. But the agency was not willing to agree. "We think it fits, but they don't always see it that way," Smith said.
HRSA favors designating underserved areas within the same boundaries as an existing federal designation, said Marge Levine of the Montana Primary Care Association, the nonprofit organization helping Hill County.
For example, Levine said, Hill and Blaine counties are already designated as a medical professional shortage area, which means health professionals can work in those two counties and receive loan repayment help from the federal government. HRSA would be more likely to grant underserved status to that combined area, she said.
Before HRSA adopted that policy, Blaine County obtained the medically underserved designation, Smith said. That leaves the Havre area in a tough spot.
A meeting was held Wednesday to come up with a compromise.
"We were discouraged there for a while but we're hopeful again," she said before the meeting.
Smith was not part of the Wednesday's conversation, but said she heard about it afterward.
If the federal agency does not grant Havre the status it needs for the grant, there are other options, she said.
One is to apply for the underserved status countywide. That would involve asking the governor to write to HRSA on Hill County's behalf. Former state Rep. Toni Hagener has already sent a letter to the governor asking for that, Smith said.
Smith's office is preparing to apply for another grant, the Healthy Communities Grant, which might accomplish some of the things she hopes a clinic would do. The county was denied that grant, which is administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, last year.
If the county did receive the grant on its second try, it could fund a county nurse who could help people apply for Medicare or Medicaid and connect them with low-cost services that are already available in the area, Smith said.
But the big dream is still a health clinic. One version of that dream is to move the Health Department into the Hill County Annex building where there would also be room for a clinic. Smith said the county is also considering other locations.
The Hill County Health Consortium, a multi-agency community group organized by the Health Department, has worked out many of the details of what it would like to see in Havre, Smith said. So far, the consortium has used as its model a community health center in Chinook where patients pay for services on a sliding scale according to income and ability to pay.