Bristol health center gets federal designation

BRISTOL — The Mountain Health Center in Bristol has moved to the BristolWorks complex and for the past year has been offering health care to underserved populations — in addition to its traditional clientele. But last week the center got word that it has received designation that will make it easier for the medical practice to continue providing those services.
The Five-Town Health Alliance announced that the Mountain Health Center has been officially designated as a Federally Qualified Health Center Look-Alike (or FQHC-LAL) by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Health Resources and Services Administration.
This is the latest step the center has taken toward becoming a fully accredited FQHC. The Look-Alike designation makes it possible for Mountain Health Center to offer a sliding fee scale to uninsured and underinsured patients meeting federal guidelines based on income.
Mountain Health Executive Director Martha Halnon said the center has, in fact, been offering the sliding fee scale for the past year, but without the resources that the new designation brings. As an FQHC-LAL, the center is enabled to apply to be part of the 340B discount drug program, which will lower the cost of prescriptions for eligible patients, as well as get larger reimbursement for services offered through Medicare — what Halnon said is called “adequate reimbursement.” But, since it doesn’t have the full FQHC designation it still isn’t eligible for some other federal grants.
“With this we are able to offer more services,” she said. “We don’t receive any grant funding like a full FQHC.”
Mountain Health Center, which is incorporated as a nonprofit under the Five-Town Health Alliance umbrella, provides access to primary and preventative health care services, including medical and behavioral health care for people of all ages.
“Each patient chooses a health care provider to oversee all their care,” according to Medical Director Marian Bouchard, MD. “We make referrals to specialists, coordinate care, and also work to provide in-home support to our patients when needed.”
Including Dr. Bouchard, Mountain Health Center has four physicians, a nurse practitioner, a physician assistant, a social worker and dietician, six licensed or registered nurses, an executive director, and administrative staff.
Although it has been offering a sliding fee scale for a year, Halnon said the center was slow at the beginning to get the underserved patients.
“But since we moved into our new site that’s really helped raise our profile,” she said. The center is accepting new patients.
Halnon said the center will see how things go over the coming year to determine if it can meet demand with its current staff. Among the services that might be added is access to dental care through collaboration with Mountain Health Dental Center. That is an organization, formerly called Addison County Dental Care, that hopes to be up and running by January, Halnon said.
“They are independent,” she said. “Ultimately we hope to work together.”
The effort to improve access to health care in Bristol and the wider area has been a years-long process, and participants in the process were happy to see the recent progress.
“We applied for this status because we thought it was important to provide health care to anyone who walked in the door, regardless of their ability to pay,” said Nancy Marnellos, former chair of Five-Town Health Alliance. “Our new Look-Alike status gives us the ability to do that and much more.”
Current alliance board chair Jill Mackler gave credit for the FQHC-LAL designation to many friends of the Mountain Health Center.
“Sen. Bernie Sanders’ commitment to making quality health care available to all Vermonters, along with the support of Gov. Peter Shumlin and Rep. Michael Fisher and Dave Sharpe, helped us achieve this important designation,” Mackler said in a press release. “We’re also grateful to Bi-State Primary Care Association for their long support and assistance along every step of the journey.”
Sen. Sanders, upon hearing the news, offered his commendation: “I congratulate the Five-Town Health Alliance on the health center in Bristol receiving a formal designation as a Federally Qualified Health Center Look-Alike. This is a major step forward toward improving primary health care in Addison County and providing affordable prescription drugs. It also moves us a step closer to the Five-Town Health Alliance becoming the ninth Federally Qualified Health Center in Vermont with all the benefits that go with that designation. I look forward to continuing to work with this wonderful organization.”

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