Monday, June 26, 2017 This Week's Paper

Health Center Nears Opening

// Hilltop residents excited for new regional health center

Construction and paint crews are still placing their finishing touches on Community Health Care’s new Hilltop Regional Health Center, but the building is far enough along for an open house slated for Saturday. The facility will begin receiving patients in mid-November.

The three-story, 54,000-square-foot, $26 million facility at 1202 Martin Luther King Jr. Way is set to provide the Hilltop neighborhood with a one-stop shop for medical and dental services.

The clinic will accept a host of insurance plans, including Medicare and Medicaid, as well as offer a sliding payment scale for people without insurance.

An on-site pharmacy will provide low-cost medications and serve as the center for programs to monitor and manage diabetic patients and those looking to stop smoking. Some 3,000 people are expected to use the urgent care center alone, with another 14,000 patients benefiting from other services inside the building through a roster of partnerships with health care providers.

But those numbers are now expected to rise with the enactment of the Affordable Care Act that will increase the number of people with health insurance, and therefore, patient volumes. Early projections put the increase at between 15 to 30 percent, according Donor Relations and Marketing Manager Debbie Jacobson.

“There is going to be more than everyone can handle,” she said, noting that the current use of Urgent Care for non-emergency medical conditions is straining hospitals around the county, so the Hilltop Center will provide relief to those emergency rooms.

By next year, an estimated 80 percent of the 100,000 Pierce County residents now lacking insurance coverage will have some form of private or public health insurance. That shift is expected to create a spike in medical treatments as people seek treatment for their long-standing conditions that went untreated because they lacked insurance.

Another challenge to having such a marked increase in insured residents is the limited number of primary care physicians across the nation and in Pierce County. Responding to this need, Community Health Care in conjunction with the Franciscan and MultiCare Health Systems will undertake a medical residency program in the new facility. This three-year program, when fully implemented, will train 18 family-practice providers graduating six per year.

Along with medical and dental services housed in the building, the center will have a meeting room that will be available for community meetings as well as art created by Hilltop Artists.

“We wanted everything to reflect the community,” Jacobson said.

A coffee shop in the lobby, for example, will be run by Goodwill Industries to provide job training for young adults. The Hilltop Action Coalition will also have a storefront at the complex.

Community Health Care is a private, non-profit organization created in 1987. The first two clinics, in East Tacoma and in the Hilltop area of Downtown Tacoma, were operated one or two nights a week by volunteer physicians with the help of other citizens handling logistics and paperwork.  The organization currently operates six medical and two dental clinics.

The Regional Health Center will be a boon to Pierce County by bringing more than 137 full-time salaried positions to the area. With initial federal funding of $12 million from the Affordable Health Care Act, Community Health Care built the new center after matching money was raised from a host of agencies and private backers. The grand opening celebration will be held on Sat., Nov. 2 at 11 a.m. Festivities will begin across the street at 1223 Martin Luther King Jr. Way followed by a ribbon-cutting ceremony and tours of the new facility.