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$1.3M grant to fund new Shoreham health center

SHOREHAM — Vermont’s Congressional delegation announced on Tuesday that it had secured $1.3 million in federal funds to build a community health center in Shoreham that will offer medical and dental services to area residents regardless of their ability to pay.
The new, 4,200-square-foot, two-story center will be affiliated with the Community Health Centers of the Rutland Region, one of eight Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC) in Vermont. An FQHC receives federal assistance for health care services provided in areas deemed by the government to be medically underserved.
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., has been particularly vocal about establishing new FQHCs in Vermont and throughout the country for people who are uninsured or under-insured.
A Sanders provision in the 2010 health care law authorized $11 billion to build, expand and operate more community health centers nationwide. An additional $1.5 billion was allotted to increase the number of primary care providers in underserved areas. The funding for these primary-care centers was designed to double to 40 million the number of patients served by health centers regardless of their ability to pay.
“The bottom line is that seven years ago, we had two community health centers in Vermont — one in Burlington and one in the Northeast Kingdom,” Sanders said during a telephone interview with the Addison Independent. “We now have eight, and with the Shoreham facility, we’ll be in 42 separate communities.”
He explained that the FQHCs also have satellite facilities (of which the Shoreham center will be one) to increase the range and convenience of service. Sanders said FQHCs now provide regular health and dental services to 110,000 Vermonters. That’s more per capita than any other state in the nation, according to Sanders.
“This is a real step forward in providing primary health care for the people in the (Shoreham) area,” Sanders said.
Grant Whitney, executive director of the Community Health Centers of the Rutland Region, said the Shoreham clinic will offer services to anyone — whether they have Medicaid, Medicare, private insurance or no insurance at all. The clinic will offer services on a sliding scale to clients earning less than 200 percent of the federal poverty guideline. That amounts to a threshold of $46,100 annually for a family of four.
Whitney said the new Shoreham health center will be built on 2.96 acres located just south of the Mobil station on Route 22A. The land is currently owned by Ernest Pomainville, according to realtor Judy Sperry of Middlebury-based Coldwell Banker Bill Beck Real Estate. The site is appropriately zoned for a health center and the parcel has access to municipal water and sewer services, Whitney noted.
Assuming permitting goes smoothly, Whitney said the new center could be built and open to clients by this fall. In the meantime, organizers will look for staff for the facility. Whitney said longtime Shoreham physician Dr. Allan P. Curtiss Jr. will sign on. It was Curtiss who was burned out of the former Newton Academy building on School Street when that structure was struck by lightening two years ago. He has since been operating out of a Main Street home.
An additional primary care physician will be recruited for the center, along with either a nurse practitioner or a physician’s assistant, according to Whitney.
Community Health Centers will initially rotate some of its current dentists and dental hygienists into the Shoreham clinic, then determine staffing for that service based on demand, according to Whitney.
In addition, the health center will feature a community room for public gatherings, and space for medical specialists from Porter Medical Center and Rutland Regional Medical Center to periodically see patients.
“We are really excited about this,” Whitney said.
So are Shoreham officials, who for the past several years have been seeking to get some assistance for Dr. Curtiss in the wake of the Newton Academy fire and out of recognition of his eventual retirement.
“We’re ecstatic,” said selectboard Chairman Paul Saenger.
In addition to the grant for the Shoreham clinic, the Vermont Congressional delegation announced that Northern Counties Health Care, based in St. Johnsbury, will receive $874,668 to expand and modernize a building in Island Pond for better medical and dental space.
Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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