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Mascoma Valley Nonprofit Celebrates 1 Year, Seeks to Hire More Providers

  • Kayla Fitzgerald, of White River Junction, gets a filling from Dr. Henry Lemieux, right, and dental assistant Caroline Sumner, left, at the Mascoma Community Health Center in Canaan, N.H., August 3, 2018. With space in its facility to expand, the health center looking to hire one dental provider and one medical provider. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Clinical Director Donna Ransmeier registers Wayne Allard, of Enfield, as a new patient at the The Mascoma Community Health Center in Canaan, N.H., August 3, 2018. "I've been well satisfied with their care," said Allard, who has had dental work done at MCHC and stopped by to confirm that they would accept his Medicare insurance. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Mike Samson, a Mascoma Community Health Center board member and chair of the finance and executive committees, talks with Physician Assistant Maria Nunez Stiglich, who is in her fifth week working at the health center in Canaan, N.H., August 3, 2018. Currently only one doctor and one physician assistant work at the health center, but after five years, Samson said he hopes to have four of each serving 5,000 patients. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Wayne Allard leaves The Mascoma Community Health Center after registering as a patient in Canaan, N.H., August 3, 2018. The health center has been open nearly 14 months and currently at 1,850 patients is growing at a rate of 100 new patients per month. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Friday, August 03, 2018

Canaan — Despite bear and plumbing problems, the Mascoma Community Health Center has surpassed organizers’ expectations for its first year of operation.

As of Thursday, nearly 14 months into the center’s operation, it has 1,856 patients and is still growing at a rate of about 100 new patients per month, said Mike Samson, a board member and chairman of the finance and executive committees. In addition, the center has broken even in three of the past six months, he said.

“Our goal was to break even in 18 months and have 1,600 patients,” said Samson, who also is Canaan’s town administrator.

Now, however, the nonprofit center again is outspending its revenues in an effort to expand access to current services and increase those that are available. To that end, the organization currently is seeking one medical provider and one dental provider, Samson said. These new hires will be added to its current staff of 14, he said.

The clinic opened in June 2017 in a new, 13,000-square-foot building off Route 4 in Canaan with construction costs backed by a $3.5 million loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The clinic was the result of a community effort to increase access to primary care in the Mascoma Valley, without requiring residents to fight traffic to get to Lebanon.

In the coming months, Samson said the center hopes to partner with another organization — which he declined to name, citing ongoing discussions — to begin offering mental and behavioral health services.

In addition, the center has just received a $154,276 grant from the Northern Border Regional Commission for equipment that will allow the center to add physical therapy, pharmacy and radiography services. In order to get the grant, however, the health center needs to raise matching funds, which it is in the process of doing.

“That’s what our big push is right now,” board chairman Dale Barney said.

So far the organization has faced challenges such as a bear that was regularly visiting the center’s dumpster (remedied by a bear-proof dumpster) and a plumbing problem, Barney said. They’ve also had some power outages and are raising money to purchase a generator, he said.

Board members also have come to find that reimbursements from Medicare and Medicaid can be slow to roll in, Barney said. They therefore are seeking a revolving line of credit so they can keep up with payroll and other expenses, he said.

The organization eventually plans to seek certification as a federally qualified health center, Samson said. The certification, which Samson said he expects will take another three years to obtain, comes with a range of benefits that would help keep costs down.

The center would have access to the 340B drug discount program, be able to offer student loan credits to providers, save on malpractice insurance and receive a federal grant to subsidize the sliding scale fee system (which now is funded through donations), Samson said.

Samson said the health center is meant to reduce the cost of primary care for its users.

For skilled services, Samson said the center’s patients still need to make the trip to either Alice Peck Day Memorial Hospital or Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon.

The center also is helping to keep overall medical costs down by helping to keep people out of emergency rooms for dental problems that previously went untreated, he said.

Though one of the board’s goals in establishing the center was to increase access to dental care, particularly for low-income people, board members have been surprised by just how popular a service it has been.

“It’s been astounding,” Samson said.

He estimated that in the first six months of the dental service’s operation, the center provided $200,000 of care, supported by about $100,000 from patients. The center wrote off the other half of the cost of care.

This service is “perhaps one of the things that I as a board member am most proud of,” Samson said.

One happy dental patient is Alan Ricard. The Canaan resident, who doesn’t drive, said he finds the center’s location on Roberts Road, which is about five minutes east of Mascoma Valley Regional High School, to be convenient. He takes Advance Transit’s blue route bus along Route 4 to get there. And to get home, depending on the season, he either rides his bike on the rail trail or he snowshoes.

“I love it,” he said. “They’re very friendly. It’s small, so you get personal attention.”

So far, however, Ricard, who is a retired federal employee and is insured through his former employer, has continued to receive his medical care at D-H. Because it can take a while to get an appointment, he thinks he eventually will switch his medical care to the health center.

He’ll be in again soon to see the dentist.

“I’m going back in to have a cavity filled,” he said.

The center is hosting a party from 1-3 p.m. on Sunday to celebrate its first year. Timed to coincide with Canaan Old Home Days this weekend, the event will include music, free ice cream, cake and fruit, as well as tours of the health center and door prizes.

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.