Growing Mountain Family clinics pursue integrated care
August 16, 2016
A network of community health clinics in Garfield, Eagle and Pitkin counties has been successful in reaching nearly half of the area's poor and underserved population, and is striving to bring even more people into the health-care fold regardless of their insurance situation or limited income.
Mountain Family Health Centers, based in Glenwood Springs, is preparing to launch a capital campaign to establish new, larger clinics in Basalt and Edwards and expand services to provide an integrated approach to its patients' needs.
According to Garry Schalla, the new development director for MFHC, a major focus of the expansion is to address the overall health and wellness of the patient, including dental and oral health needs and behavioral health, "so that we are not just reacting to a disease," he said.
Mountain Family's clinics in Glenwood, Rifle, Basalt, Edwards and Avon serve about 17,700 residents in four counties, including some from Rio Blanco County who use the Rifle clinic. The vast majority of those patients, about 85 percent, fall within zero to 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level.
"In real terms, the majority of MFHC's patients live on less than $24,000 a year for a single individual or on less than $49,000 a year for a family of four," Schalla points out.
Still, only about 48.6 percent of that low-income population in Mountain Family's service area is being reached. Another goal is to expand its reach to the estimated 18,000 low-income residents in the area who have not yet accessed Mountain Family's health care services, he said.
Currently, the Rifle clinic, which is owned by MFHC on land leased from Garfield County, is the only one that offers primary, dental and behavioral health services.
But that's about to change, as the 38-year-old nonprofit organization is working with Pitkin and Eagle counties to establish new, larger clinics in Basalt and Edwards by 2018 that will be able to offer the fully integrated program of services. Preliminary planning has also begun to expand services in Glenwood Springs, Schalla said.
As it stands, the Basalt, Edwards and Glenwood Springs clinic spaces are owned and subsidized in different ways by local hospitals, including Valley View and Aspen Valley hospitals and Vail Valley Medical Center.
"While that is very nice, we have outgrown our spaces, and are many times in certain locations at the mercy of changing hospital expansions and reductions, greatly impacting our ability to both serve and expand our services and clientele," Schalla said.
Plans call for a new Basalt location that will allow for primary care, full dental and behavioral health all on one floor.
"This will allow us to easily double the populations we currently serve and expand to becoming a primary caregiver for many more, possibly even corporate clients across the Roaring Fork Valley," Schalla said.
Not only does Mountain Family serve low-income patients, it also has a number of corporate clients whose workforce can take advantage of the clinic's services.
"This helps keep our patients out of the expensive emergency rooms … driving down the cost to our corporate clients, whose workforce becomes healthier as a result," Schalla said.
Mountain Family is also working with Eagle County to construct a new two-story clinic and space for other Eagle County services in Edwards. That clinic, too will have primary, dental and behavioral care services in one location.
Providing integrated care is a critical component of what Mountain Family offers, and is especially important for low-income patients who may have neglected other aspects of their health that can lead to larger medical problems, Schalla said.
As an example, he points to the link between plaque buildup on teeth and heart health. A patient who comes in with heart disease might have been better served on the front end by addressing dental needs, he said. The same is true in connecting primary and mental health needs, Schalla said.
Starting next year, a mobile dental health unit will be serving locations that don't have on-site dental services, and Mountain Family's first school-based health center opened in Avon in time for the new school year. And, a new SMILES tele-dentistry project will be operating in Avon and Garfield County.
"Another goal is to let the larger community know about what it is we do and how we do it," Schalla said.
Following the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, the number of Medicaid patients MFHC clinics see has grown from 25 percent in June 2013 to 46 percent as of December 2015 when. At the same time, the number of uninsured patients has shrunk from 48 percent to 32 percent.
Mountain Family works with uninsured patients and those who need services not covered by Medicaid, Medicare or private insurance to pay what they can on a sliding scale. About 17 percent of patients at MFHC have commercial insurance of some sort.
Other programs patients and their families can take advantage of include childhood immunizations, hypertension control, tobacco screening and cessation, healthy weight screening, nutrition and activity counseling, depression screening and follow-up, and early prenatal/healthy birth weight care.
Schalla said MFHC will eventually look to the community for a portion of financial support for the various capital projects, for which cost estimates are still being developed.
According to the organization's annual report for 2015-16, MFHC annually drives $15.7 million in local economic impact through job creation and tax revenues and drives an additional $18.1 million in health-care cost savings by reducing unnecessary hospital utilization.