Vermont residents spend more on health care than the national or regional averages, federal data show.
Community Health Services of Lamoille Valley hopes to reverse that trend, at least at the local level, by streamlining services with a new $5.5 million home.
The one-story building scheduled to open in January, will provide “one-stop shopping” for patients and lower costs, says CEO Kevin Kelley, who noted that the community health organization has not raised its rates for services in a number of years.
“We are forward-thinking five, 10, 15 years down the road, because health care is changing,” Kelley said, and he hopes the new space will draw additional qualified professionals to the area, making a larger impact on the people that Community Health serves — which is currently 69 percent of Lamoille County residents with a primary-care doctor.
Community Health Services is a federally qualified health center that’s designed to ensure that Lamoille County residents have easy access to high-quality, timely, comprehensive health care at an affordable price.
It encompasses six diverse medical practices — Appleseed Pediatrics, Stowe Family Practice, Morrisville Family Health Care, the Behavioral Health & Wellness Center, Neurological Clinic and the Community Dental Clinic — and over the last decade has doubled its staff from 70 employees to 142.
It has also boosted the number of annual patient visits from 14,965 to 17,418. While that’s an increase of only 15 percent, it has helped double the organization’s annual revenue over the past 10 years to $15.6 million.
As the agency has grown, the organization’s five locations across Morrisville have nearly burst at the seams.
“We are totally out of space,” Kelley said.
The new 27,000-square-foot structure on a 4-acre field the organization owns at 407 Washington Highway, near the current home of Morrisville Family Health Care, should help alleviate the space problem.
And, for patients, it will consolidate the services provided in the five leased buildings into one owned by Community Health Services.
“When we lease properties, we can’t control increases in costs,” Kelley said. “But the single building will have a fixed-rate mortgage, be energy-efficient and provide other fixed costs that can reduce the impact on patients.”
It will also help alleviate parking problems at Morrisville Family Health Care with 103 new spaces, compared to just 22 at the current building, and allow patients to simply walk across the hall to other services they need.
And if their primary doctor recommends they see a specialist, a conference room will offer telemedicine — remote diagnosis and treatment so the patient doesn’t have to leave the building.
In the past, Community Health Services has offered telemedicine only for psychiatric care.
The new building will also house Appleseed and the neurology clinic — now in the basement of Morrisville Family Health — allowing patients with neurological disorders, such as epilepsy or multiple sclerosis, to walk into a first-floor clinic rather than deal with stairs or an elevator.
Eventually, Morrisville Family Health Care will shuffle across the street, increasing its capacity with three exam rooms instead of two, as well as another procedure room, and the medically assisted treatment team, which helps patients with addiction, will increase its capacity in the new building.
Behavioral Health & Wellness will move too, from Northgate Plaza to Washington Highway, in the building where Morrisville Family Health currently lives, creating a hub of patient care centered just across from Copley Hospital.
In the end, only Stowe Family Practice and the Community Dental Clinic will remain at their current locations.
Community Health Services has recently teamed up Appleseed Pediatrics with the Lamoille Family Center to bring a new program — Developmental Understanding and Legal Collaboration for Everyone — to Lamoille County, ensuring that newborns and their families receive high-quality medical care as well as the social services and community support they need during the first six months of the newborn’s life.
It’s a three-year pilot program, and the Lamoille Valley is one of five communities participating countrywide.
In line with that mission, Community Health Services will bring the special supplemental nutrition program for Women, Infants and Children, which is a federal program not under the health service conglomerate’s control, into the building for a few days a week.
While all these services will still function as separate entities, having one central location will allow for better collaboration on patient care, and pooling resources should provide greater efficiencies and savings.
Now, Kelley and his team are working with Copley Hospital to find any services that can be moved across the street to the health center to provide even further ease of access, especially when the cold winter months could dissuade patients from walking across the street.
Community Health Services is already working with Copley to reduce emergency-room use for primary care by placing a social worker in the emergency department to talk to patients who don’t have health insurance or aren’t being treated by a primary care physician.
So far, 58 percent of the patients the social worker has spoken with have set up primary care physicians, and scheduled follow-up appointments with them instead of with emergency room doctors.
As a federally qualified health center, the organization has been awarded a $1 million federal grant toward the project cost. The Vermont Economic Development Authority has also awarded the project $1.5 million in partial financing; Union Bank is providing the rest of the financing for the building itself.
Community Health Services of Lamoille Valley is kick-starting a campaign to raise $200,000 for ancillary equipment in the new building that’s not covered by current funding.
“We are reaching out for the first time to the community for funding,” Kelley said. “It’s an opportunity for patients to give back to help sustain health care for the future.”
Donations can be made at chslv.org/gift-giving.