Lori*, a mother of two, could not afford health insurance. Luckily, her children were able to qualify for low-cost health insurance—with the help of the North Country Children’s Clinic, she enrolled them in Child Health Plus, which helped pay for doctor’s visits, dental visits, and prescriptions. The North Country Children’s Clinic was a boon to the community. Unfortunately, it did not have the capacity to serve adults, and Lori’s only access to health services was through costly urgent care visits. “It was expensive,” said Lori, “so I would put it off as long as I could and hoped I would just get better.”
Many adults in the North Country faced the same problem in accessing affordable health services. Throughout the years, the clinic’s nurses would see many parents like Lori who needed care but could not afford it. A survey in 2010 found that as many as 8,000 parents visiting the North Country Children’s Clinic did not have a primary care provider.
In 2012, NYSHealth awarded a grant to the North Country Children’s Clinic to expand its primary, mental health, and dental care services to adults, as well as its clinic hours to better accommodate the schedules of working, low-income adults. With this expansion, the clinic changed its name to North Country Family Health Center (NCFHC).
In the fall of that same year, Lori was back in the pediatric office with her daughter, although she herself was sick and coughing. Much to Lori’s relief, the nurse happily shared news of the clinic’s expansion and helped her make an appointment for the same day. “They didn’t care that I didn’t have insurance, and they didn’t care that I didn’t have enough to pay for my appointment,” Lori said. “They just wanted to help me feel better.”
Before the expansion of the clinic, adults in the North Country had long faced a shortage of primary care providers that were willing to take publicly insured patients. A health center survey showed that there was an eight-month wait to become established with a primary care provider—provided one had health insurance—and that many providers were not even accepting new patients. The newly expanded NCFHC brought much-needed care to adult patients within a 75-mile radius of the clinic.
With NYSHealth’s support, NCFHC became a federally qualified health center and won a federal New Access Point award in 2012. Another NYSHealth grant in 2013 helped NCFHC develop a long-term, sustainable solution for its continued operation. Since then, NCFHC has expanded its medical and behavioral health services for adults from 381 patients and 562 visits in 2012, to 25,000 patients and more than 5,000 visits in 2015.
“I am so glad that North Country Family Health Center isn’t just for children anymore,” said Lori. “And I am so glad that I can get the same great care for myself that I do for my kids!”
*name changed to protect privacy