Bullhook Community Health Center Executive Director Cindy Smith said the board is looking at buying the lots at 5th Avenue and 4th Street, now an empty lot, the Brandon Building and the building that had housed Heberly Engineering.
She has been working with the Human Resources and Services Administration of the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services, known as HRSA, which awarded Bullhook a nearly $5 million grant to move the clinic’s operations to a new facility, on the 5th Avenue and other possible locations.
“I have been talking to them almost daily, ” Smith said.
Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., sent a letter supporting the application for the new location to HRSA.
“Bullhook Community Health Center provides access to quality health care, ” he said last week. “I’m proud to work with Bullhook and all Montana health clinics as they work to keep Montanans healthy and strong. ”
The original plan, which was listed in the grant application last fall, was for the clinic to lease, remodel and relocate into Donaldson Hall on the Montana State University-Northern campus.
That building, the first entirely new building erected on the campus, in the 1930s, has not been used for several years due to problems with its infrastructure.
Northern’s chancellor, Jim Limbaugh, and the state commissioner of higher education, Jason Christian, both of whom took office after the grant application had been sent to HRSA, nixed that idea. Limbaugh and Christian said the university needs to keep control of the building and include it in the long-term planning for Northern, rather than turning control over to the clinic for 20 to 40 years or longer, along with other concerns.
Smith said the clinic’s staff is working to put together the plans for the 5th Avenue location to submit to HRSA for approval, including meeting with the local zoning board last week to talk about parking.
She said the board gave several suggestions about how parking could be handled, and she expected to talk to the architect working on the project this morning about how those suggestions could be implemented.
Smith said the plan for the 5th Avenue location, if approved by HRSA, is to use a tax credit program available through the Montana Community Development Center to buy the property, then use the $4,957,921 to build a new clinic.
The new location would consolidate all operations of the health center. Now, health services are located in property near Northern Montana Hospital, leased from Northern Montana Health Care, while dental services are offered in a clinic in the Atrium Mall.
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 reformed as a private nonprofit. As well as adding the dental services, the health service also has started offering mental health care, with an addiction counselor on staff.
Part of the goal of moving to a new location is to bring all of the services together under one roof, providing what is known as a “patient-centered medical home model, ” where the patients can receive all of their services in one location.