There's no doubt that the number of medically uninsured residents is a growing population in Moffat County.
In 2003, The Memorial Hospital's Care Clinic logged 1,044 patient visits. In 2004, that number increased to 1,511. The Care Clinic treats indigent patients.
Although TMH Administrator Ran-dy Phelps says the increase can be attributed to better marketing of the services offered, the 2005 Comm-unity Indicators Project Report shows medical assistance program expenditures have increased nearly $1 million since 1999.
As the need increases, funding is decreasing. Moffat County government supported the Care Clinic until 2004, when it was cut during the county's attempt to save money. A $50,000 Caring for Colorado grant covered a bulk of the center's $58,000 in expenses. Hospital officials have applied for another $50,000 to cover the clinic's operations for another year.
After that, another solution could kick in. Northwest Colorado has been identified on a federal level as a place lacking in community health services and the Visiting Nurse Association has taken on the task of assessing that shortage. The organization will determine the need and feasibility of locating a federally funded Community Health Center anywhere in the three-county region.
"(The Care Clinic) doesn't meet all the needs, and this could be great potential for funding," VNA Executive Director Sue Birch said. "I could see the two blending, but we don't know enough to know for sure yet."
The Care Clinic, Birch said, deals mostly with acute care, while a federal program would be more preventative and more proactive in chronic disease management.
The VNA will hold scoping meetings in Craig and Steamboat Springs to gauge what community members see as the biggest need.
"We want to make sure it would be a gain for the community," Birch said.
Phelps said he has had a number of conversations with Birch about the need and is very open to a partnership.
"Getting reimbursed for care could result in more services," he said. "If we can get some federal help to care for the medically indigent, that would be terrific."
Moffat County would get preference for the dollars if the existing Care Clinic could be converted to a community health center.
The mission of a community health center is to serve underinsured and uninsured residents. The centers provide family-oriented primary health care and preventative services for people living in medically underserved areas -- places where economic, geographic or cultural barriers limit access to primary health care.
Christina M. Currie can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 210, or email@example.com.