From Longview Daily News & Katie Fairbanks
After nearly a decade of using sandwich-board signs along the street to direct patients to a back entrance of Kaiser Permanente, Longview’s free clinic expects its new location on Washington Way will help reach more patients in need.
Community Health Partners, the nonprofit that holds the free clinics, moved to 945 Washington Way earlier this month after Kaiser Permanente decided to decommission the module the free clinic had used for about nine years.
It was difficult to find a new space to fit the nonprofit’s needs and budget, but the staff, board of directors, volunteers and patients are pleased with new space, said Ken Dale, Community Health Partners executive director.
The new location “in the middle of the community” is paying off, as people began calling about the clinic as soon as the new sign went up, Dale said.
Community Health Partners holds free medical clinics for adults on Tuesday mornings, Wednesday evenings and Thursday afternoons.
The medical clinic includes exams for urgent health problems, immunizations, sexually transmitted infection testing and treatment, access to medications and prescriptions, laboratory and imaging services and referrals to primary care and medical specialists.
The organization typically serves about 30 patients per week, although the number varies, Dale said.
“I foresee our numbers going up,” he said.
Dale said while the organization is grateful that Kaiser donated the space for the clinic for years, the location likely prevented some people from finding it.
“We need people to know (about us),” Dale said. “We joked we’re the best kept secret in Longview/Kelso, but we can’t exist without donations, in-kind support and grants.”
After searching for a new location for over a year, Dale found the Washington Way space, which was previously an insurance office. The easy-to-find location offers the organization great exposure but on the downside required remodeling and rent, Dale said.
Community Health Partners received “wonderful support” that made the move possible, Dale said. Longview contractor JH Kelly did some of the remodeling work in-kind, and Kaiser allowed Community Health Partners to take the shelving and other equipment from its old clinic space and donated furniture from its warehouse, he said.
The organization also received a grant from Community Foundation for Southwest Washington to help pay for the remodeling, Dale said.
It was difficult finding a location to easily convert to a medical clinic but the insurance office provided what the organization needed with limited changes, Dale said. Crews converted offices into four exam rooms, a waiting room and a pharmacy room. The biggest changes were adding sinks to the exam and pharmacy rooms and installing cabinets, Dale said.
“We really maximized the space,” he said.
For about 15 years, the clinic was only open once a week, but expanded to three days per week after receiving a $100,000 grant in 2019 from the Health Systems fund created by Kaiser Permanente Northwest, Legacy Health, PeaceHealth and Providence Health & Services.
The grant also enabled the clinic to hire a nurse practitioner to expand outreach, which the pandemic put on hold, Dale said. The organization recently received a grant to fund the expanded hours and nurse practitioner for another year, he said.
The organization will continue to hold quarterly dental clinics and biannual vision clinics at Kaiser, Dale said.
PeaceHealth, another major supporter of the free clinic, will administer COVID-19 vaccines to staff and volunteers this weekend, Dale said.
Community Health Partners will hopefully become a COVID-19 vaccine site once more doses are available and eligibility expands, Dale said.
The clinic also employs a licensed “navigator” who can help people understand what services and programs they are eligible for and direct them through the often confusing healthcare system, Dale said.
“If there was free healthcare for all we’d be out of business, but that’d be alright,” Dale said. “I don’t see that happening for a long time … We’ve been around for 15 years and intend to stay here for years to come.”
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