Staff members of the local community health center will have to wait at least a month to present their case to the state Board of Regents of Higher Education on taking over a historic Havre building to renovate it and turn it into a clinic.
Bullhook Community Health Center’s proposal to lease, renovate and repair, and use Donaldson Hall at Montana State University-Northern did not make the agenda for the Regents’ meeting this week in Havre.
“The reason is, we learned of the request for the first time on or about May 2, about one week after campus items for May consideration were due to be submitted in our office, ” Kevin McCrae, associate commissioner of higher education, said Monday.
He added that Commissioner of Higher Education Clayton Christian would not be able to make a recommendation on the proposal until his office has more information.
Bullhook received a nearly $5 million grant through the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama’s signature health care reform, to move and consolidate its operations into the old college dormitory, which opened in 1936.
Donaldson has been shut down for several years due to infrastructure problems including its electrical, plumbing and heating systems.
“Depending on how the concept advances, it could come to the regents for a decision at a future meeting, but we can’t estimate precisely when, ” McCrae said. “The next regular meeting of the board is in September. ”
Cindy Smith, executive director of the community health center, said her agency is ready to move forward immediately.
“We have been in meetings and telephone conversations since (the May 1 grant announcement) with the university system’s attorneys, the commissioner of higher education, regent Paul Tuss, and (Northern) Chancellor (Jim) Limbaugh …, ” she said Monday. “We were told the university system is looking at the requirements and policies they will have to abide by to sign a lease with an outside non-profit agency such as Bullhook and (to) maintain the requirements of the funding agency. ”
She said some of the primary goals of the project are to preserve the historic building and to consolidate and improve the function of the health center.
Bullhook opened in 2005 as part of the Hill County Health Department, offering medical services to the region including using a sliding-fee scale for low-income people.
Since then, it has re-formed as a private nonprofit with medical services offered in a clinic next to Northern Montana Hospital and dental services offered in the Atrium Mall. Mental health care services are also offered, with an addiction counselor on staff.
Smith said the Donaldson project — it was one of 171 awards made to 400 community health center applications nationwide — must be completed by May 2015. Although the health center can apply for extensions to some deadlines, delaying the start will delay the completion and delay the community benefits of the construction work, which would bring more money to the community, she said.
She said Bullhook staff members are continuing to work on the project, pending university approval.
“We continue to be positive, and we emphasize the economic impact this project would have upon our entire community and MSU-Northern. ” Smith said. “We are ready and waiting for the university system, as all of our preparations and focus beginning with the application process until the award announcement has been on a comprehensive revitalization plan for Donaldson Hall. No actual viable alternatives have been identified or considered. ”
Smith said starting and completing the project would bring many benefits, including the preservation of Donaldson, the first completely new building erected at Northern.
Another benefit would be allowing the health center to care for more patients, with better continuity of care and using the “patient-centered home model, ” Smith said.
“We are currently space-bound, making it difficult to grow programs or add new providers, and we have two separate locations for dental and medical, ” she added.
The project also would give more opportunity to serve a large group of people who are going underserved, including some students and faculty and other people in the area, she said.
The location also would allow collaboration and program development with Northern’s nursing and technology programs, and other educational opportunities; allow for opportunities for training people in nursing, dental assistance and dentistry, counseling and other disciplines; and allow for other collaborations with healthcare organizations in the community for services such as family planning or immunizations, Smith said.