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North Country Children’s Clinic continues growth, needs more space

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The North Country Children’s Clinic has grown so much since it became a federally qualified health center last year that its administrative and some office staff will soon have to relocate off site.

Interim Executive Director Janice L. Charles said there were more than 1,200 visits to the adult medical clinic in October, and non-urgent cases are booking four to six weeks out.

“I always knew there’d be a huge need,” she said. “I don’t know if we anticipated it’d grow this fast.”

As the agency continues to grow, so does the need for more clinical space. Last year, the clinic’s administrative and office staff had to consolidate office space to accommodate the addition of the adult medical clinic. Mrs. Charles, who also is agency co-founder, said the new off-site administrative/office space has yet to be determined.

When staff moves out of that space, which is next to the adult medical clinic inside the Children’s Clinic, 238 Arsenal St., there will be more medical exam rooms, a mental health counseling room, a nutrition education room, alcohol and substance abuse counseling rooms and one more dental operatory. The dental program served both pediatric and adult patients, even before the new federal status.

“We have to do this in stages,” Mrs. Charles said. “We have to have the financial resources.”

The agency applied for a $650,000 grant from the federal Department of Health and Human Services was because it wanted to serve adults in a primary-care setting. For decades, it had been dedicated to serving children’s medical needs. The clinic received the grant in June to expand clinic operations, including the opening of a site in Lewis County. While the Lewis County site is going through the state approval process, the adult medical clinic continues to bloom.

A majority of adults who visited the clinic had Medicare or Medicaid, but a number of patients had private insurance. Mrs. Charles said it’s good to have that payment mix to get a mix of revenues, especially because the agency cannot yet bill Medicare for services provided.

Because the demand for services in the area is increasing, the adult clinic’s nurse practitioners are now working full time. The adult medical clinic is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday, but soon will be open until 7 p.m. Wednesday and 8 to 11 a.m. two Saturdays per month, pending approval from the clinic’s board of directors.

As a federally qualified health center, the North Country Children’s Clinic also must provide alcohol and substance abuse and mental health counseling. While the agency awaits contract approvals for alcohol and substance abuse counseling services, it is moving forward with providing mental health care. The clinic hired William Kimball as a part-time psychiatrist, but he will soon move to full-time status.

A facilitated enroller who helps people enroll in insurance plans began working full time last week, and Mary Beth Knowlton, a registered dietitian, will work five hours a week as the adult medical clinic’s nutrition counselor. She is also the four-county coordinator for the federal Women, Infants and Children supplemental feeding program.

While some changes may occur simultaneously, Marketing Director Elaine P. Garvey said the Children’s Clinic dental program is an area not accepting new patients until a new, full-time dentist is hired.

Mrs. Charles said the Children’s Clinic is also continuing to develop its required program to help the homeless population. It also became certified for the federal 340-B program, which will allow it to purchase supplies, such as vaccines, at significantly reduced costs.

The nonprofit group will continue to partner with area agencies such as the Volunteer Transportation Center for client transportation needs.

For more information, visit the clinic website, www.childrens-clinic.org.

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