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Coos County Family Services awarded money to build new health center

August 12, 2010
BERLIN — The Senate Appropriations Committee approved a request made by Senator Jeanne Shaheen to support the construction of a new 24,000 square foot health center for Cos County Family Health Services (CCFHS) last week. The approval comes with the promise of $150,000 for the project, as part of the Fiscal Year 2011 Labor-Health and Human Services Appropriations Bill. The bill will now face the consideration of the entire Senate.

This is good news for CCFHS who started planning the construction of the new health center back in 2005 when a study conducted on the three clinics of CCFHS found them "inefficient, inaccessible, and without full deployment of current medical technology to support chronic disease management," according to a message drafted by CEO Adele Woods. CCFHS hopes the new health center will alleviate some of these issues.

"It's all tied to how much space we have," explained Development Director Kathleen Kelley. "It's a puzzle." As well as improving efficiency, the new clinic would integrate oral and mental health programs into the services.

CCFHS is a 36-year-old, non-profit healthcare organization that serves the residents of 30 communities in Cos County and neighboring Maine towns, regardless of ability to pay. This represents 19,000 people, and an area which has been federally-designated a medically underserved population and a medical, mental, and dental health professional shortage area. CCFHS operates four facilities, three in Berlin and one in Gorham, and employs 13 family practice physicians, three OB/GYNs, one pediatrician, one podiatrist, seven nurse practitioners, and three physician assistants. Their services include a shelter for battered women and WIC services county-wide.

So far, the project has been operating on funds bestowed by the Community Development Block Grant program and the Tillotson Fund. Through the Tillotson Fund, $69,835 has been spent on expert/consulting services, and $12,500 worth of senior staff time has been spent on the project.

Though the plan is to build the new health center in Gorham, there is a chance that the location could be moved to Berlin if CCFHS can team up with Androscoggin Valley Hospital to form an accountable care organization (ACO), part of the healthcare reform taking place across the country, said Ms. Kelley. Healthcare organizations can join forces and receive additional funds to support the health of a community. If CCFHS and AVH were to form an ACO, then the new health center should be located close to AVH.

Last week was a good week for CCFHS, as they were also awarded a $30,000 New Hampshire Charitable Funds grant to develop a sustainability plan for the organization. CCFHS plans to operate the first green medical center in New Hampshire.

"It's very doable, so we're excited about the possibility, and we've engaged a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) consultant," said Ms. Kelley.

All of this comes in the wake of Community Health Center Week, a week-long celebration of CCFHS and all they do that will showcase resources available for all residences to maintain and improve their health. The week's highlight will be a discussion on the impact of healthcare reform at the Randolph Town Hall on August 11 at 11a.m.

Martin Lord Osman
Varney Smith
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