The United Community Health Center will break ground next week for their new facility in Storm Lake, with a special guest.
Congressman Tom Harkin, who has long been a supporter of the local facility and the community health ceneters concept, will be keynote speaker for the ceremony on Thursday, August 7, at 1:30 p.m. at the new clinic location - 715 West Milwaukee.
The plans for the new clinic by Shive Hattery Architects were released Wednesday. The building will be 7,500 square feet, compared to the current location's 3,000. It will feature central facilities extending north and south, with a west wing of medical suites and an east wing for the new dental program. It is designed so that either medical or dental areas could be expanded if needed in the future.
Weather allowing, they hope to occupy the new center by spring, Director Renea Seagren said.
When the community health center was first visualized for Storm Lake several years ago, it was anticipated that a need would be evident for primary and preventive care services to the uninsured, underinsured and underserved of Northwest Iowa.
United Community Health Center currently has a patient list of 3,800 people, and it continues to see a growth of 80-100 new patients each month.
People come from a considerable distance to use the resources - the patients represent more than 75 zip codes of residence.
"The fact that we operate on a sliding scale is one thing that really attracts patients," Seagren said. "Out clientele is really all across the board... about 60 percent are non-caucasian, and about half have insurance."
Although people may have a policy, they may still be underinsured," she said. "They get to the doctor and find out that many things they may need may not be covered under their health plans - immunizations, lab tests - here they can apply the sliding scale to the portion of things their insurance company doesn't cover."
Senator Tom Harkin announced that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has approved a grant of $150,000 for the Storm Lake clinic - one of only five such grants in Iowa this year.
The grant will be used to purchase needed equipment for the new building - including technology to test children for lead.
The legislature has newly mandated lead screening for students entering Iowa schools. Iowa continues to have a serious problem with children exposed to lead in older houses with peeling paint that dates to the 1940s and earlier.
The funds will help with things like exam tables, technology, computers and other needs.
"There will be space for a dentist, as we plan to add dental services and recruit a full-time dentist," Seagren said. "At some point we would like to consider adding behavioral health or mental health providers, even on a part-time basis. There is a lot of stigma attached to going to a mental health facility, but if you go to meet with a professional within the community health center, no one is going to know."
The new site officers flexible additional space to allow other providers to be brought in as specific health needs in the community are recognized.
Seagren said Harkin has worked especially hard on behalf of the Storm Lake facility and the community health centers concept in general.
"He knows we are trying to expand and offer the general services our public needs. The dental crisis, he is very aware of. Many rural areas cannot attract a dentist, or people may not have the dental insurance they need," Seagren said.
When the new site opens, the health center is anticipating an even higher demand for services.
"Our location right now is kind of tucked away in a residential area, and not everyone knows it is there," Seagren said. "We will be moving to a high traffic site that is on the way to the middle and elementary schools, and we will have more parking. We expect to be a lot more visible in the community, and that should make us even busier."