20 March 2014
A Powell couple is spear-heading the effort to open the Basin's first community health center.
Over a year ago, Dr. Larry Akin and Sharon and Bill Baker formed the Powell Healthcare Coalition with the intent of opening a community health center in Powell. In August of 2013, the Coalition was awarded a $325,000 planning grant. The grant was made possible through Wyoming legislative appropriations specifically for health centers and rural health clinics.
The Basin already has a free clinic and three rural health clinics. Even with those access points for healthcare, there remain access barriers to primary medical and mental health care.
“To utilize the free clinic you have to be uninsured, 200 percent below the federal poverty level, over 18 years of age, and under 65,” said Baker.
When Wyoming chose not to accept Medicaid expansion, an insurance gap was created. Expanding medicaid would be one way of removing the insurance gap. Baker says, in a similar way, under the Affordable Care Act, creating community health centers would fill an access gap.
Hospitals are not intended as outlets for preventative healthcare. Private practitioners are not readily willing to accept Medicare, Medicaid, and the uninsured for fear of non or insufficient payment. Due to the types of insurance or ability to pay, those in the coverage gap would be seen in a community health center.
To begin filling the healthcare access gap with a community health center, a few preliminaries must first be met. Consider funding—established community health centers are funded in part through Federal grants. To receive those grants, the community health center muse be located in or close to what's termed a Medically Underserved Area. Neither Cody nor Powell meet that requirement. Except for Cody and Powell, the rest of Park County meets the requirement of a Medically Underserved Area, as does Big Horn County.
While it might make sense to build the community health center in an area where it would be of immediate benefit, say Big Horn County, Baker believes build anywhere other than Powell and the potential to reach the most people is diminished.
“It's the way water flows; it goes downstream. People from Powell don't go to Lovell. Definitely you have to consider the fact that a lot of people out of Big Horn County work in Powell, work over here. If it's a convenient access point for them they may use it,” said Baker.
Community health centers must also collaborate, when possible, with local hospitals to be recognized as federally designated. Initially, this collaboration could be shown through a letter of support from the hospitals. Save for Powell, Baker says the Basin's hospitals have not been enthusiastic about the idea of another healthcare access point.
“You can see the picture pretty clearly if you think of the health clinic as another medical practice coming to town. You get a lot of push-back as you would expect to get a lot of push-back. This is where the health center is at,” said Baker.
This push-back comes even as the community health center seeks to do what hospitals are not intended for and private practitioners aren't financially able to do.
In recent years, cries about the increasing costs of healthcare due to inappropriate use of emergency rooms have become familiar. Baker says a community health center would ease the costly burden on emergency rooms and fill the gaps in healthcare by enabling access for everyone. There would be no restrictions.
The Powell Healthcare Coalition expects an opportunity for federal funding will come and is currently preparing its funding application. If granted, Powell Community Health Center could be opened by year's end.
A meeting on the health center's role in dental and oral health has been scheduled for Wednesday evening from 7:00 to 8:30 and Northwest College's Fagerberg Building, Room 70.