Community Health Center Meets Medical Needs
By Megan Harrington
For Saratoga TODAY
SARATOGA SPRINGS – While many lower-income residents may have health care that covers catastrophic illnesses and events, that insurance often doesn’t extend to routine medical services and dental work. Saratoga Hospital’s Community Health Center (CHC) is offering a remedy with a one-stop shop for individuals who need non-urgent medical and dental care and have limited or no insurance.
CHC’s Medical Director Dr. Renee Rodriguez-Goodemote says, “We’re one of the few programs in the area that is using an integrated model when it comes to behavioral health, dental services, and primary care.” This model is unique and effective because it removes some of the stigma often surrounding mental health care. People no longer have to obtain behavioral health services from a separate clinic – at CHC it’s all in one place.
Purchased for $1.95 million dollars two years ago, the facility opened at its 24 Hamilton Street location in September 2013. The Community Health Center is within walking distance to downtown apartments, businesses and a CDTA bus stop. The CHC also offers early morning and evening hours, essential for patients who need to come in before or after work. According to the CHC’s September 2014 Stewardship Report, in its first year, the Community Health Center provided services for 3,381 needy patients during 10,113 visits.
All services are provided regardless of an individual’s ability to pay; however, there is on-site staff at CHC that are available to assist uninsured patients apply for low-cost coverage and/or enroll in the Hospital’s financial assistance program. According to the recent CHC Stewardship Report, more than 250 previously uninsured patients now have coverage due to these efforts.
Amy Raimo, Executive Director of the Saratoga Hospital Foundation and VP of Community Engagement explains that the success of the Community Health Center has been a long-term project for the Hospital. “When they began to work on this project, they set a $3 million dollar goal which would allow them to buy the building at 24 Hamilton Street. The remaining money would go into an endowment fund to support the health center in to perpetuity.”
Currently the endowment fund is at a little over $700,000 and the investments have already begun producing dividends. Raimo explains that once the endowment reaches $1 million dollars, it will begin generating around $50,000 dollars in income per year. This money will be used to help purchase equipment, perform building renovations and offset hiring costs for doctors, dentists and mental health workers. “One of our big priorities is to grow the endowment each year,” says Raimo. This endowment is essential because there’s a large gap between revenue that comes in (via reimbursements) and what it actually costs to provide services. Saratoga Hospital has committed to covering the difference, which is estimated to be $1 million dollars per year, but to close that gap even further, fundraising events are held.
To aid in this process, all proceeds from Saratoga Hospital’s Summer Gala have been designated for the Community Health Center. “We can’t think of a better use of those funds because the Community Health Center is such a valuable resource to the community,” says Raimo. This coming year’s annual appeal has also been earmarked to help the facility. “We only mail to donors once per year and the donors appreciate that. They know that when they receive an appeal, it’s important,” says Raimo.
In addition, the CHC will receive fundraising dollars from Saratoga Hospital’s Employee Campaign and an upcoming Business Appeal. Raimo explains, “For a lot of employees of downtown businesses, this is an incredible resource. We all know that a healthy employee is a more productive employee.”
Saratoga Springs’s official motto is “Health, History, and Horses”, but “Wealth” might also come to mind when you think of our fine city. Unfortunately, the staff at the Community Health Center knows all too well that there are many underinsured residents living right next door. Many families face a choice between seeing the dentist or getting a flu shot and buying essentials like groceries. “The focus of the Community Health Center is to fill a gap in the community. So that people who are uninsured or underinsured have a place to go to get high quality medical, dental, and mental health services,” explains Raimo.
Receiving routine care at the Community Health Center ultimately means fewer Emergency Room visits, which is important because an ER visit costs, on average, twice as much as a primary care doctor’s appointment.
To help individuals get set up with routine care, the Saratoga Hospital Emergency Department works with the Community Health Center to provide a list of people who come in without insurance and a primary care provider. Each month about 30 of those individuals become established Community Health Center patients. In this case, the saying by Benjamin Franklin rings true: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
“We really are committed to the health center and its success”, says Raimo. “If you go down and hear some of the stories – from an elderly person who needed dentures to kids who needed immunizations to start school – you’ll realize how the staff is helping people in this community and how grateful those people are.” Raimo explains, “That’s all we need to hear to continue doing what we need to do.”
And at 24 Hamilton Street, you’ll feel the personal touch. Rodriguez-Goodemote explains, “We’re not just a medical practice, we want to be a part of their life and help them navigate their stresses.”
The CHC’s comprehensive approach includes not only health care, but services such as a food pantry and clothing if needed. Raimo agrees, “The staff is so caring and amazing and they really take the time to get to know their patients and find out their needs.” For example, staff saw that many patients were struggling to come up with prescription co-pays, so the CHC recently established a patient Rx fund. Due to it’s popularity, the fund was almost depleted, but when this was mentioned at a Foundation Board meeting, members gave whatever they had in their own pockets and came up with nearly $1,000 on the spot. “That’s how important this is to us,” says Raimo.
With over 10,000 visits in its first year and numbers on the rise, staff and supporters of the Community Health Center are poised to make 2015 even healthier for area residents.
For more information, visit saratogahospital.org/locations-directions/saratoga-community-health-center