Saturday April 6, 2013

KEITH WHITCOMB JR.

Staff Writer

ARLINGTON -- If it once again fails to receive a federal grant, the Battenkill Valley Health Center will use state funds to develop a plan to become a federally qualified health center on its own.

Merge and become FQHC

The center first applied to the federal Health Resources and Service Administration for grant money in 2011 so it could merge with Arlington Family Practice and become a federally qualified health center (FQHC). The center was formed as a non-profit with that goal.

Dr. Michael Welther, owner of Arlington Family Practice, has said once he retires the Arlington area will lack a primary care doctor. Given the difficulties independent doctors face, it’s not likely anyone would replace him.

Mary Ann Carlson, chairwoman of the health center board, said the first application was one of 800 across the nation vying for about 80 grants. This round the odds are not much better, she said, with there being about 400 applications and 40 expecting to be chosen.

Carlson said the Vermont Department of Health awarded Battenkill Valley Health Center a $75,000 grant to put together the application in the first round. It has awarded $19,000 to apply a second time, and has also awarded $100,000 to conduct a feasibility study for going ahead and becoming a FQHC "look-alike."

Carlson said a look-alike health center offers the same benefits as a normal FQHC.


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It would offer primary care, plus mental health and dental services. In addition, it would pay greater reimbursements for Medicare and Medicaid. The challenge is raising the money the look-alike would need to keep in business long enough for its application to go through.

The Health Center intends to raise $1 million, which would allow it to merge with Arlington Family Practice. About $700,000 is needed for the first year, and the rest would carry it through the second. Carlson said to become a look-alike the FQHC would need to run by itself for six months then be able to survive in the three months the application would take to be judged. Carlson said once the Health Center submits an application for look-alike approval it is highly likely it will be approved. The only hurdle is the funding.

"If you don’t have confidence people won’t have confidence in what you are doing," she said.

Carlson said the Health Center is seeking corporate donors and individuals. Some pledges have been made, she said, as many recognize the need and benefit of a FQHC. She said 18 letters of support were received for the grant application, many from surrounding towns. She said once the FQHC is up and running one of its goals is to open a satellite in Bennington.

One thing is clear, she said, from looking at how other FQHC in Vermont operate: Fundraising will always need to be done.

Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at kwhitcomb@benningtonbanner.com or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr