Opening day five years ago was a waiting game.
A long day of waiting.
Colette Mild, CEO, and Dr. Juanita Sapp, medical director, remember clearly their Day One vigil on Sept. 1, 2015 — …
Opening day five years ago was a waiting game.
A long day of waiting.
Colette Mild, CEO, and Dr. Juanita Sapp, medical director, remember clearly their Day One vigil on Sept. 1, 2015 — the opening of Heritage Health Center, Powell’s Federally Qualified Community Health Center. The opening of the new health center at 128 N. Bent St. was prescribed by the terms of a federal grant, which required the HHC clinic to have its doors open and be ready to serve patients 120 days after receiving its start-up funding. Notice of the opening had been announced..
“We had been there all day from 7:30 a.m.,” recalled Mild. “Dr. Sapp had her black medical bag ready, a first aid kit, because only some of our medical supplies had arrived, and we needed something to make us look like an official clinic. A nurse and I were at the front desk.”
The hours passed. It’s as if the door never opened.
“We closed at 8 p.m., so we were about ready to be done for the day,” Mild remembered.
Finally, at 7:30 p.m., the one and only patient of the day showed up to reward their patience and resolve.
Heritage Health Center was officially launched.
The waiting has paid off. HHC currently averages about 500 patient visits per month, a number that is increasing by about 50 new patients per month.
“What a whirlwind, from paper and planning to having seen over 5,000 people through our doors in five years,” exclaimed Mild, almost in disbelief herself. It’s the kind of success story which helped her win executive leader of the year recognition from the Wyoming Primary Care Association in 2017.
“Our staff members are amazing and resilient,” Mild said. “They really dedicate themselves to our patients, and that makes all the difference in patient satisfaction and health center success.”
Growth has been across the board; more patients mean expanded staff, services and physical plant. HHC now occupies three side by side storefront locations in downtown Powell at 126 N. Bent, 128 N. Bent and 130 N. Bent, Suite B. In addition, HHC staffs an outreach clinic in Greybull and sees patients there five days a week.
The 2015 opening day staff of three has grown to 23, with the newest member set to join HHC in January 2021. Dr. Sarah Sowerwine is a family medicine physician specializing in maternal-child health. She was born in Cody and is excited to be returning to the Park County community and family. Her addition will bring the HHC medical provider staff to five. They are M.D.’s. Sapp and Sowerwine; physician assistants Diana Anders and Joseph Davidson; and family nurse practitioner Amanda Buffkin.
The community health center intends to further expand patient services in 2021, declared Mild.
“We are doing great things around innovative medicine, both integrated models with behavioral health, as well as implementing systems to utilize remote patient monitoring so that patients don’t always have ‘to come into the doctor’ to be taken care of by the doctor,” she said.
Cares Act and renovations
Exam room space at the center’s 128 N. Bent St. clinic location has been limiting, Mild acknowledged. HHC has had only four exam rooms for four medical providers, “and this doesn’t even take into account the three behavioral health providers we have on staff.”
The Congressional appropriation for COVID-19 relief, known as the CARES Act, provides a way forward. More than $1 million has been allocated to HHC to address COVID relief, principally through the Health Resource and Services Administration (HRSA). Heritage Health Center has also received a share of federal COVID response dollars distributed by the State of Wyoming.
The HHC plan is to create a viral walk-in clinic at the 126 N. Bent St. location, which formerly housed HHC administrative offices. Essentially a mobile exam room, it will allow for COVID-19 testing in a dedicated space.
“We want to keep anyone presenting with respiratory symptoms separate from our patients who are coming to us for routine medical care,” Mild explained.
The three full-time behavioral health counselors will be located in renovated office space at 130 N. Bent, along with an expanded area for nutrition and case management services. HHC’s administrative offices and billing department will also be located at 130 N. Bent.
Relocating functions from the main clinic at 128 N. Bent will free additional exam room space and support staff space for medical care visits.
“It will allow us to further our integrated care model and continue with expanded hours for service,” Mild noted, but she said the long-range goal of HHC is still a new building.
Three-year grant award
Heritage Health Center has recently been approved for an extension of its federal operating grant of nearly $900,000 a year (2021 through 2023) by HRSA, its oversight agency. HRSA has the primary mission of improving access to health care for the uninsured, but that doesn’t mean that HHC provides services only for the uninsured. The community health center is available to everyone — including those covered by Medicare and private insurance. Patient fees are billed on a sliding scale, with fees from $20 to $55 per visit, depending on household income.
Juanita Sapp, medical director, is pleased with the accomplishments in HHC’s five-year history, having created 23 jobs in the community that didn’t exist five years ago. She is also proud that HHC has filled a need for the medically underserved.
“We have a good working relationship with Powell Valley Healthcare so our entire community can have seamless care,” Dr. Sapp added.
Board represents community
An 11-member community board of directors governs HHC. Tom Bibbey, retired teacher and administrator, is president of the board. He has been with HHC for nearly the entirety of its five-year existence and was named the outstanding board member in the six-state northwest region of the country in 2019 by the Community Health Association of the Mountain and Plains States (CHAMPS).
Noting the increase in patients served and the corresponding expansion of personnel, Bibbey said, “You have to give most of the credit to our CEO, Colette Mild. Colette works so hard; and, of course Dr. Sapp.”
Bibbey added a historical note, saying the success of the community health center can in part be attributed to the initial board for its organizational work over a couple of years to bring HHC into being in 2015.
“Our present board is a group of terrific, hard-working people,” he praised.
They include Scott Kolpitcke, vice-president; Patricia Moulton, treasurer; Cindy Ibarra, secretary; and Wes Metzler, Beth Hronek, Blake Thompson, Brooke Fink, Chad Miner, Casey Bowe and Sharon Earhart, directors.