County Commission to write letter of support for Sapphire Community Health grant

By MICHELLE MCCONNAHA for the Ravalli Republic | Dec 6, 2016

The Ravalli County commissioners agreed Monday to write a support letter for the Sapphire Community Health grant application to Health Resources & Services for a community health center with a sliding scale of fees. 

The commissioners wrote a letter of support two years ago for the initial grant application and renewal comes up every three years.

The Sapphire Community Health Center opened in October last year and has seen over 1,500 new patients. The center serves patients based on a sliding fee scale and does not refuse services based on ability to pay.

Janet Woodburn, Sapphire Community Health CEO, explained to the commission what makes a community health center different from any other primary health care.

“Community health centers were established in 1965. They are nationwide and enjoy unilateral political support,” she said. “The mission is not-for-profit, customer driven and to provide high quality affordable care. The difference between us and most primary health care organizations in Ravalli County is that we will provide the same services to anyone who walks in the door, regardless of their ability to pay.”

Woodburn said the funding for Sapphire Community Health Center come from a $700,000 grant from the federal government. She said there are 17 community health centers in Montana.

“People pay at a sliding fee scale based on the number of people in their homes and any income,” she said. “People pay differing amounts based on where they are on the poverty scale. People who don’t have an income are still charged $20. They can spread that out over four months but everybody pays something.”

Woodburn said Sapphire provides holistic health care including primary, behavior, mental and dental to people of all ages, birth to old.

“We provide all of those services either under our roof or we have a referral agreement with another organization that will take our patients using the sliding fee scale,” she said. “We are unique to Ravalli County and the grant we wrote is specifically for Ravalli County. We will take anyone. We will take people with insurance but you don’t have to have insurance. We take Medicaid, Medicare and Healthy Kids.”

Woodburn said Sapphire Community Health Center has met all of the goals set for them by the Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA).

“They have set our standards not only by the number of people we have to see but when the person comes we have to show the patient is improving,” she said. “It is very rigorous, even more rigorous than private health care. We are evaluated with every patient every time they come in and we have met all of our goals.”

Commissioner Ray Hawk asked if there was a medical doctor on staff.

“Yes, we have Dr. Bender as our chief medical officer,” Woodburn said. “He is part time but he reviews all our medical records. We have a psychiatric nurse practitioner and a family nurse practitioner and they are all prescribers but all their work is reviewed in a peer review and by the doctor.”

Woodburn said Sapphire refers emergencies to the hospital.

“We work well with the hospital,” she said.

HRSA does the audits of Sapphire Community Health Center.

“Everything we do is electronic and there is constant communication,” Woodburn said. “Our medical records are all by number not by name so they are all HIPPA compliant (privacy set by Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act). We have very rigorous reporting and auditing. It is more rigorous that most hospitals have to go through.”

Commissioners J. R. Iman, Doug Schallenberger and Ray Hawk, the three commissioners in attendance, agreed to write a letter of support for Sapphire Community Health Center with updated information on poverty in Ravalli County.