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September 05, 2013 8:18 am

EDITORIAL: Grant award for health center is just a good start

Written by Ilene Olson

The ‘heavy lifting’ must be done cooperatively

The award of a state grant to help establish a community health center in Powell is good news, especially for people who have limited or no access to health care due to low incomes or lack of insurance.

It also is the signal for people working to strengthen and improve health care services in Park and northern Big Horn counties to come together as a team. The center must be designed as envisioned, in a way that strengthens hospital districts and existing services in both counties rather than competing with them. That can’t happen without good communication and teamwork.

With the face and structure of national health care changing almost daily, this is a challenging time to navigate the muddy waters of a system that is in constant flux. That makes partnering to pilot this effort even more important.

Organizers must work together to make sure the planned center is structured in a way that makes the most sense from economic and health care perspectives, and that it does the most good possible for both counties, their hospital districts and health care providers, and for area residents.

It is obvious that little communication has taken place thus far between the Powell Health Care Coalition, which submitted the grant proposal, and North Big Horn Hospital District in Lovell. That must change, and Bill Baker, who has helped spearhead the effort, said the coalition plans to “extend an olive branch to Big Horn County.”

It also would behoove the board for the Heart Mountain Volunteer Medical Clinic to involve itself in these discussions.

The two entities have different philosophies. The volunteer medical clinic, funded entirely by donations and by grants, provides free care on one afternoon and two evenings per week to people who have no health coverage and whose household incomes are lower than the federal poverty line.

The planned health center would be open 40 hours per week to provide care for anyone, regardless of income or insurance, with subsidized care on a sliding scale for people living on low incomes. As envisioned, the center also would provide dental and mental health services. Initial funding comes from the state; organizers’ eventual goal is to have the center qualify as a federally-funded community health center.

Despite those differing visions, the free clinic and the planned center have a common goal: to meet the health care needs of area residents. That can be done best if these two organizations work together to decide how to achieve that goal — whether jointly or independently — rather than working against each other.

Bill Patten, chief executive officer for Powell Valley Healthcare, said he plans to work with the coalition to move the project forward.

“We are looking at a lot of work and probably not a lot of time to get it done. I plan to do all I can to work with this group to help with ‘the heavy lifting,’” he said last week.

We hope that cooperative spirit will define the effort between all perspectives, districts and interests, and that the result is a solid organization that dovetails with existing providers and services to meet the needs of low-income residents and strengthen health care in the Big Horn Basin.

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