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Published December 04, 2012, 11:54 PM

Low-income health clinic opens doors to new $15 million Fargo center

FARGO - The Family HealthCare Center saw its patient population swell from 6,600 five or six years ago to the 12,000 patients served last year. The primary care clinic for the area’s uninsured and underinsured population was so crowded that providers shared offices and squeezed exam rooms into nooks and crannies. Not anymore.

By: Patrick Springer, INFORUM

FARGO - The Family HealthCare Center saw its patient population swell from 6,600 five or six years ago to the 12,000 patients served last year.

The primary care clinic for the area’s uninsured and underinsured population was so crowded that providers shared offices and squeezed exam rooms into nooks and crannies.

Not anymore.

The new $15 million center has opened its doors to patients at its downtown location at 301 NP Ave. in four adjacent buildings that have been extensively remodeled.

“A lot of us have dreamt of a new building,” Jesse Vargas, a longtime patient and patient representative at the clinic, said Tuesday. “This is beyond our dreams. It’s going to be a great help to the community.”

An invitation-only open house will be held Friday, with plans for more opportunities for the public to see the new center early next year.

The new center, which will handle at least 40,000 patient visits in its first year, has 33 exam rooms, more than triple the number of the old clinic. Space has more than doubled to 56,000 square feet.

The new center’s additional space has allowed new services, including an expanded pharmacy and dental clinic, as well as an optometry clinic and behavioral health services.

“We were turning people away with the old space,” said Patricia Patrón, chief executive officer of Family HealthCare.

The center also has full laboratory and X-ray services.

The new center groups services together more efficiently, to accommodate three care coordination teams, one for obstetrics-gynecology and two for family practice.

It also has lots of space for patient education consultations, individually and in class settings, including a kitchen and small fitness center. Health providers will be able to offer much more in the way of preventive health and health coaching, Patrón said.

“It’s going to have a tremendous impact on the community,” she said, adding that patients who are more engaged in their own health will be able to help control rising health costs.

“Access to more primary care is the key to a lot of health problems,” Patrón said.

The center includes a clinic for homeless patients, previously housed in the basement of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in downtown Fargo. Last year, the clinic served 1,183 homeless patients.

The pharmacy, managed by the North Dakota State University pharmacy program, fills from 350 to 500 prescriptions a day.

“They’re very, very busy,” said Samantha Kundinger, the center’s director of development. “This room is full every day.”

Medical interpreters for a dozen languages are available to serve a diverse community, including refugees and immigrants. A typical year adds 383 new refugee patients to the community.

Tax credits, including those to encourage historic preservation, helped provide financing for the project. The expansion began proceeding in 2009 with the announcement of a $6.6 million grant as part of the federal stimulus program.

The historic, three-story Pence building, which began life as an auto dealer and later served as a printing shop, is the center’s mainstay. It retains its glazed terra cotta brick exterior.

Touches of the original architecture have been preserved throughout the building, including terrazzo flooring on the main floor, a pink marble staircase and support column pillars.

Family HealthCare is the only federally designated community health care center in all of North Dakota and western Minnesota.

“So we have patients who travel hundreds of miles to access our services,” Kundinger said. “We’re seeing a lot of people from the western side of the state.”

After raising $14 million, Family HealthCare still needs $1 million, and is turning to the community for donations. Effectively, every dollar donated has a return of $14, Kundinger said.

“Now we’re turning to the community for help,” she said.

For Vargas, the new center is well worth the investment, a far cry from the center when it first opened in 1993.

“It’s going to be a great help to the community,” said Vargas, the son of migrant farm workers who came to Fargo at the age of 5 and now is retired at 77. “It’s much easier to access. Everything’s all combined instead of separated. People don’t have to run all over the place.”


Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522

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