Sapphire Community Health Center to reopen in Hamilton

By Kevin Maki of NBC Montana

HAMILTON, Mont. - A nonprofit primary health care clinic in Hamilton, will open its doors no later than Labor Day.

The Sapphire Community Health Center won't turn anyone away. Payment will be on a sliding fee scale.

The same center closed in 2011, because it didn't have enough money to operate. But federal funds totaling $1.3 million over the next two years, will give the clinic new life.

Carlotta Grandstaff and Dixie Stark have been working for years to make Sapphire solvent. The building at 303 N. Third Street in Hamilton, was purchased by the District 11 Human Resource Council.

After being turned down for federal money several times, the clinic will now get $704,000 the first year of operation, and $650,000 in the second year.

"It will provide about one-third of our operating revenues," said board chair Grandstaff, "and we'll raise the other two thirds through Medicare, Medicaid and private pay. This is a sliding scale clinic."

Sapphire also relies on private donations and other grants.

In the 18 months it was open, Sapphire Community Health Center served the primary health care needs of 900 patients, with little advertising.

Vice board chair Dixie Stark said primary care is about prevention.

"It's going to make sure that when (a patient) wakes up with a sore throat, and they think maybe it's strep throat," said Stark, "they could come here and they could get a prescription and maybe stay at work instead of having to take days off."

Stark said, "Preventive care is the best way to save money for taxpayers and patients."

The clinic will probably see some patients who used to use the public health department's reproductive health services.

Commissioners refused Title 10 money to fund the program in Ravalli County.

"We are not their replacement," said Grandstaff, "but we will offer those services as part of primary care."

She said Sapphire could apply for Title 10 money when it becomes available in five years.

When reproductive health services closed, Ravalli Women's Wellness Center opened a clinic that served patients one day a week with a volunteer staff. Grandstaff said the Wellness Center will close when Sapphire opens.

The board chairsaid the clinic is looking for a chief executive officer, who will probably hire two nurse practitioners to serve patient needs.

NBC Montana talked with a potential client who was playing with her young son Thursday. Marina Bierer is a single mom with four young children.

The young mother said the kids are covered when they need to go to the doctor. She said she will go to the doctor if she gets really sick. But she said, "I usually try to fix it on my own, or wait it out."

"It's definitely the cost," she said. "I need to save as much money as I can for the children."

Bierer said she plans to use the clinic when it opens.