Powell Community Health Center approved


New center will focus on providing health care to low-income and uninsured patients, but will see anyone

After years of planning, a new, federally funded community health center will begin operating in Powell by Sept. 1, if all goes as planned. 

The Powell Health Care Coalition received notification Tuesday that its grant application was approved for $1.35 million to fund the new community health center. 

“I’m still pinching myself to make sure it’s real,” a jubilant Bill Baker said Tuesday.

Community health centers provide free or reduced-price medical, dental and mental health care to people who are uninsured or underinsured. They also provide care for patients on Medicaid and Medicare, and for patients who have insurance.

The two-year grant will provide $700,000 for the first year and $650,000 for the second year.

However, with additional grant money expected and money from Medicare and Medicaid, the clinic will operate on about $1 million annually, Baker said.

The grant specifies that the community health center is to start up within 120 days.

The planned community health center’s service area consists of all of Park County, but the clinic will see anyone who comes to the center for care.

“We must see anyone that seeks care, without consideration of where they are from,” he said Wednesday.

Some of the groundwork for the community health center was laid out before and included in the coalition grant application in October. A chief executive

officer and a physician previously agreed to come on board, and the center already has a place to call home.

Brian Johnston of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, will be the chief executive officer. He has an extensive history in clinic and hospital management, including management of a telemedicine service.

A signed letter of intent with the coalition on Sept. 11 states that Johnston will receive a first-year salary of $65,267 and benefits totaling $13,885. He also will receive three weeks vacation, liability insurance and a relocation allowance up to $10,000.

Johnston said he’s glad the long wait is nearly over.

“I’m excited. I’m beyond excited,” Johnston said in a telephone interview on Wednesday. “I’m excited to get back into a smaller community and a small, independent clinic ... where we can make a difference, one patient at a time.”

He said he looks forward to figuring out collaboration with the hospitals and other providers in Powell and Park County.

Baker said the coalition has memorandums of understanding with Powell Valley Healthcare, West Park Hospital and Yellowstone Behavioral Center.

Coalition members also spoke to Drs. Mike Tracy and Bob Chandler, who will start an independent practice next month. “There is good support and collaboration” there too, Baker said.

Bill Baker’s wife, Sharon, said the coalition will contract with area dentists to provide dental services and has begun negotiations with area dentists.

Johnston said he doesn’t know yet when his family will make the move to Powell, but “we’ll be out there before school starts, that’s for absolutely certain.”

The Johnstons have three children, ages 11, 8 and 5, who will attend Powell schools.

Juanita Sapp, an internal medicine specialist who lives in Mesa, Arizona and has practiced in Phoenix, will serve as the center’s doctor and chief medical officer.

Sapp, a Powell native, signed a letter of intent on Sept. 14, which states she will receive a first-year salary of $170,000 and benefits of $16,128. She also will receive three weeks vacation, malpractice insurance and a relocation allowance up to $10,000.

The community health center will be located in the building on Bent Street that currently houses Moss Orthodontics at 128 N. Bent Street. Dr. Mathew Moss will be moving his office soon to a new building near Powell Middle School.

Because the Moss Orthodontics office is too small to house the center’s administration, those offices will be located at 306 N. Bent St.

“They’re pretty close together, which is acceptable,” Sharon Baker said.

She said the opportunity to lease the Moss building was a blessing.

“Do you know how hard it is to find a clinic, a single-purpose venue? she asked. “They’re not very common in Powell.”

Bill Baker said they considered leasing space in the Fitch Building until they learned it would cost $200,000 to remodel it into a clinic facility.

The Bakers first envisioned creating a community health center five years ago as a way to provide medical care to people who need it. However, he has said during several public meetings that, for many, access to dental and mental health care is even more difficult to obtain for people living on low incomes in the Big Horn Basin.

A community health care center must first provide medical care before it can offer dental or mental health care, he said.

Bill and Sharon Baker later joined with Larry Akin, Dave Whittle and Dave Bonner, also of Powell, to form the Powell Health Care Coalition. That board has since expanded to the nine members required to govern community heath centers. Added members are Wes Metzler, Jim Carlson, Deirdre Cozzens and Karen Roles.