One day at the Summit Community Care Clinic, a teenage girl sat in a room waiting to get her teeth cleaned. The hygienist asked a question that most wouldn’t hear while sitting in a dentist’s chair but is routine for the clinic: Have you been having any suicidal thoughts? The girl said yes.
Immediately, licensed professional counselor Sarah Vaine went into the room and talked to the girl. She had been fighting with her mother, she said, and felt her mother’s life would be better if she weren’t around.
Vaine told the girl that clinic staff could meet with her and her mom. Soon the girl started talking with a therapist, and her mother decided to seek parenting coaching.
“What if nobody had asked her that question?” said Vaine, who is also the clinic’s CEO and executive director.
In recent years, the clinic started asking every patient, at every visit, questions about mental health and substance use to destigmatize those issues, encourage patients to speak up and increase their access to help.
Rather than referring a patient to an outside specialist, a professional at the clinic intervenes right away, if needed, in a practice called a warm referral. Of the roughly 60 patients seen on a busy day, about 20 receive warm referrals.
This month, the nonprofit clinic is wrapping up celebrations of its 20th anniversary, and warm referrals are one of several changes the clinic has experienced in recent years.
The clinic was born in 1993 when a group of local doctors came together to volunteer for a couple of hours two nights a week. That year they saw 293 visits.
In 2013, the clinic’s roughly 60 staff members provided 19,430 visits to about 5,000 people for primary care, oral health and behavior health.
The clinic has slowly added four school-based health centers to its operations. The clinic expanded to include mental health services in 2006 and dental care in 2007.
The integration of those services makes the clinic special, Vaine said. As an example, she described a woman struggling to find a job who came to the clinic seeking help for depression.
The staff noticed her teeth were rotting away, and she was in severe pain.
“She was terrified to go see the dentist,” Vaine said, but the clinic helped her get a full set of dentures. The next time she came in smiling, and “she just had this level of confidence we couldn’t believe.”
Vaine said she is proud of the clinic’s data tracking, which staff members ramped up in the last three to five years with the switch to electronic medical records in 2011.
The clinic tracks each patient’s health and improvement and combines data from all patients to measure how it’s doing overall compared with its goals.
Clinicians also can break down the data by health care provider, so doctors with stellar statistics can share what’s working for them with other providers who may be struggling to help their patients improve in some areas.
Vaine said the clinic focuses on preventative care to minimize patients’ health issues and long-term costs.
“It’s not being in a room with a brilliant doctor for five minutes” that makes someone healthy, she said; it’s understanding what someone can do to improve their own health through achievable goals and small changes.
About a quarter of the clinic’s roughly $4.5 million budget comes from patients, who are mostly low-income or uninsured and pay on a sliding scale. The rest comes from grants and donations.
The county lets the clinic operate in its space for free, and the hospital next door, St. Anthony Summit Medical Center, donates about $350,000 a year in imaging services.
“Fundraising is always an issue,” Vaine said, so the clinic aims to attract more patients who are covered by public or private insurance to increase revenue and continue providing its services.
Recently, the clinic liquidated $137,000 from its endowment to support its growth and cover the costs of providing care for uninsured patients.
In 2012, the clinic was awarded federal look-a-like status — meaning that it meets the service requirements of a Federally Qualified Health Center and is eligible for enhanced Medicaid and Medicare reimbursement, which should help the clinic’s financial bottom line.
Vaine said Summit County’s skewed demographics prevented the clinic from obtaining the full FQHC designation, which brings federal grant dollars along with enhanced reimbursement.
The clinic has seen its patient volume grow 20 percent in the last year, which Vaine said is part of a national trend as people are left out of regular health care. She also said more patients are coming to the clinic from neighboring communities where smaller clinics have closed.
As part of its 20th anniversary celebration, the clinic recently sent a direct appeal to its most loyal donors and raised about $300,000 of its $500,000 goal. Vaine said the clinic plans to create a donor wall in its reception area, and she will include anyone who contributes funding through Friday, July 11.
To contact Sarah Vaine about donations or tours of the clinic, call (970) 668-4040 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Contributions also are accepted on the clinic’s website at summitclinic.org/get-involved/donate.