With bipartisan support for community health centers nationwide, the United Community Health Center slated for opening by next April is gaining support from a variety of constituents who see it as an integral piece in Storm Lake's health care community.
That was the message from Renea Seagren, United Community Health Center executive director, who spoke to a group of interested citizens Wednesday night at the Lakeside Presbyterian Church Community Room. The meeting was sponsored by the Storm Lake chapter of Business and Professional Women.
"The hospital is very supportive," Seagren said. "They have been from the very beginning."
As for Storm Lake physicians, said Seagren, "Some are more supportive than others. Some are less supportive than others."
Seagren, who met two weeks ago with medical staff regarding issues of call-in coverage and prenatal care said, "It thought it was very positive."
Seagren recalled a trip she made to Marshalltown with Lorna Burnside, chair of the Buena Vista County Board of Supervisors and Board liaison to United Community Health Center. Seagren reflected on comments by one Marshalltown private practice physician.
"He said that the Community Health Center was one of the best things that had come to Marshalltown," and that the center did not hurt any private physicians financially. "He said patients were coming out of the woodwork."
Seagren said the same results could be in the offing for Storm Lake.
"We need to open our doors and invite them in," Seagren said of the Storm Lake community at large. "The community health center has never been an indictment of the physicians."
Burnside, who was at the meeting, said that Marshalltown physicians said they actually had more time to spend with their patients since much of their patient load was taken up by the community health center.
Seagren said one Marshalltown physician said a lot of people coming to the community health center had in fact not made a practice previously of going to physicians.
There are other areas in which the new clinic will assist those in the community, Seagren said.
"Pharmacy is going to be a very important part of the community health center," Seagren said. She said the clinic will be eligible for the federal 340B drug program and contract with a local pharmacy. That way, the clinic can buy medications at a rate at or below the standard Medicaid discounted rate. That service will be available to anyone, regardless of income, Seagren said.
"Any patient of the community health center can access the drug program," Seagren said. Patients will pay an administrative fee plus the cost of medications. People need only to be patients of the community health center to be eligible, Seagren said.
As for treatment costs, said Seagren, those at 200 percent of poverty level would pay the full price for $100 worth of treatment while those at poverty level would pay $10 of the $100 fee.
In a question-and-answer session that followed, Clarence Richardson said the clinic needs to get "the right emotional response" from the public.
"I think you've hit the nail on the head," Seagren said.
Larry Rohret, director of Upper Des Moines Opportunity in Graettinger, addressed an "embarrassment factor" that some members of the public might need to overcome in coming to the clinic. "At least they're getting medical attention," Rohret said. He noted that anyone can use the clinic regardless of income. The clinic will have a sliding-fee scale, with higher-income people paying the full rate.
"Even though it is health care for the poor, it is not poor health care," Seagren said.
Pat Blair asked whether the clinic would help people with non-medical perspectives such as helping people find jobs or childcare.
Seagren said nurses will act as case managers to fill just such a role, in addition to making people partners in managing their own health.
"You can't get people interested in preventive care or taking care of their health when their basic needs are not being met," Seagren said. "You help patients manage their own chronic disease so they become responsible for managing their own health."
Karen Strawn, BPW member and Buena Vista County auditor, recalled that when she and her husband lived in Ames and had a young child, the only way they could get medical care while visiting in Storm Lake was to have a family physician who was accessible weekends. "This will serve that purpose," Strawn said, referring to the clinic's evening and weekend hours.
"The community health center needs to become responsive the needs of the people that will be coming," Seagren said.
Mona Mason asked about transportation.
Seagren said transportation would be provided only as a last resort. "It's not our intention to establish a taxi service or that sort of thing," Seagren said.
Responding to a question from Blair about specialist availability, said Seagren, "We hope that we can work that out."
Blair also asked whether clinic officials would try to check patient immigration status.
"That's not a question that we'll need to ask," Seagren said.
Brenda Samuelson asked whether the clinic will generate enough funds to pay for its projected state of 16 employees.
"We hope so," Seagren said. She said the clinic is getting $650,000 in yearly federal aid and bill patients on a sliding-fee scale according to income.