Sapphire Community Health to open women’s clinic

 The Bitterroot Star | January 29, 2014

In an effort to fill the health care gap in Ravalli County, Sapphire Community Health recently developed an outreach program to provide health services to underserved women in our community.

Opening this spring at the Sapphire Community Health clinic in Hamilton, this outreach effort is staffed entirely by volunteers. Doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals in our valley are donating their time to make sure no woman in Ravalli County goes without necessary care.

It has long been recognized that access to women’s health services is essential for healthy families and healthy communities. Yet, as healthcare options have expanded for millions of Americans around the country, options for low-income women in Ravalli County have diminished.

Montana is one of 23 states that did not accept federal funds to expand Medicaid, and women below the poverty level do not qualify for health care subsidies under the Affordable Care Act. Sapphire Community Health – the only federally-funded community health center in the county – closed its doors in 2011 due to budget cuts. And, most recently, the county health department lost federal family planning funds, and ceased to function as a safety net for low-income women.

The loss of these essential services has predictable results. When women do not get annual exams, the rate of cervical cancer rises. When sexually transmitted infections go undiagnosed and untreated, women lose the ability to have children.

These critical volunteer services will rely on volunteer contributions. The goal of this outreach effort is to raise $85,000 over the coming months to provide services for over 400 women in the next year. One hundred percent of the funds raised will provide direct services to Ravalli County residents. Volunteers are working with a sense of urgency, knowing that there are hundreds of women for whom this outreach effort will be their only source of medical care.

This spring, with financial support from the community, the outreach clinic will begin offering services at Sapphire Community Health, 303 N. 3rd St. in Hamilton. Services will include annual exams, cancer screening, sexually transmitted infection testing and treatment, and contraceptive services. These services will be offered to the women of Ravalli County regardless of their income, insurance status, or ability to pay.

A fundraising event is scheduled at the clinic on Thursday, February 6, from 5 to 7 p.m. The community is invited to attend, tour the clinic, meet some of the volunteers and ask questions.

For more information, contact Heather Liebe, Executive Director, Sapphire Community Health Outreach Services, or Carlotta Grandstaff, chair, Sapphire Community Health Board of Directors, at 363-8637.