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Ground work on new clinic expected by spring

With lead architects and contractors selected and planning fully under way, the chairman of the Bullhook Community Health Center board said physical work on a new clinic is expected to begin this spring, with the new facility to open one year later.

"The entire organization, not only the board, is extremely excited about this opportunity, " Chair Todd Hanson said this morning.

He added that the project gives the opportunity to "put together a new community health center that is an asset for Havre and the Hi-Line. "

Bullhook Community Health Center Executive Director Cindy Smith said that, weather permitting, tearing down of existing buildings and work to build the new facility should start in April, with a grand opening for the new facility likely for April or May 2014.

The health center will be built across from Havre City Hall and the police and fire departments, at 5th Avenue and 4th Street.

The area purchased by Bullhook now includes a vacant lot on the corner, the Brandon Building and the former location of Heberly Engineering. Those two buildings will be torn down to make space for parking and the new health center.

The Bullhook board interviewed 11 firms in its search for an architect and engineer and a general contracting firm, Hanson said.

The two selected were CTA Architects and Engineers for the design, and Guy Tobacco Construction Corp. of Great Falls as the contractor.

Smith said Guy Tobacco Construction Co. in Black Eagle, is requesting proposals from firms to hire subcontractors for the project.

Funding for the project will include a federal grant and use of market tax credits

Bullhook originally applied for a grant to lease and remodel historic Donaldson Hall, the first fully new building erected at Northern Montana College, now Montana State University-Northern.

The building has seen little or no use for several years due to problems including with its electrical and heating systems.

Health Resources and Services Administration of the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services approved a $4,957,921 grant to lease and turn the building into a community health center, but then the university system — with a new commissioner of higher education and chancellor at Northern starting after the grant application was submitted — decided that was not an appropriate action for Donaldson.

Bullhook scurried to find a alternate location, and HRSA in September approved using the grant toward building the new clinic in the spot across from City Hall.

Hanson said Bullhook had looked at that location previously, and considered it before applying for the grant to remodel and lease Donaldson. That made it a little easier to switch gears once the university system said no on the MSU-Northern location, he said.

"We've been pretty nimble as an organization, " Hanson said. "We are pretty much on schedule with what we had planned for a time frame. "

The new location is expected to allow a major increase in the number of patients served, as well as being able to house more employees and providing a more centralized location.

Services now are split, with the main clinic in space leased from Northern Montana Healthcare east of Northern Montana Hospital, which includes addiction counseling and houses other services as well as the main medical services.

The dental services are provided in a location leased in the Atrium Mall.

Smith said that the plan is to bring all services together in the new location. That not only will allow easier access to all services, but also provide for a "patient-centered medical home model, " where the patients can receive all of their services under one roof.

The intent of that model includes providing coordinated care in all aspects of the patient's health, dealing with the patient as a "whole person" rather than having separate health care providers making unrelated diagnoses and providing unrelated treatments.

Bullhook continues its expansion of services

Bullhook Community Health Center got its start when a county health consortium, formed in 2003 to identify areas where improvements in health care were needed, found that services to low-income people and people without insurance were in short supply in the region.

The Bullhook Clinic was created in 2005, as a part of the Hill County Health Department.

The clinic provided — and the health center continues to provide — medical services to patients including on a sliding-fee scale based on the patient's income.

During a period of cuts to programs in the federal government, the clinic staff was notified in 2006 that the second year of its federal grant had been cut. The clinic reorganized, cutting six nonmedical members of its staff, canceling its outreach, reducing wages and combining job duties within remaining positions.

That December, the clinic applied for new funding through a Federal New Access Community Health Center Grant to change to a free-standing operation.

In July 2007, the clinic reopened as an independent nonprofit organization, the Bullhook Community Health Center.

At almost the same time, the group was working on finding ways to add dental care to its services. The consortium that had recommended the creation of Bullhook also found that many in the area had difficulty finding dental care due to a shortage of providers and lack of services where people can use programs like Medicaid and the state Childrens Health Insurance Program, now part of Healthy Kids Montana.

Bullhook applied for state grants authorized by the 2007 Legislature to help communities expand their dental care. Bullhook was passed over in the first round, but in September 2008 received a $185,000 two-year grant.


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