Initial fundraising goal met, clinic to open Sept. 26

Neighborcare Health recently announced it will open the island's new medical clinic on Monday, Sept. 26, while islanders involved in the fundraising effort say they have exceeded their goal but will continue to raise funds for additional clinic needs.

Neighborcare Health recently announced it will open the island’s new medical clinic on Monday, Sept. 26, while islanders involved in the fundraising effort say they have exceeded their goal but will continue to raise funds for additional clinic needs.

Longtime island physician Gary Koch welcomed the news of the clinic’s opening on Monday.

“We are really ecstatic,” he said. “Getting back to work and doing what we do, it’s fantastic. I think everyone involved is really anxious to get going.”

Mary Schilder, Neighborcare’s director of marketing communications, announced the date, noting that clinic staff will begin scheduling patients tomorrow, Thursday, Sept. 15. When the clinic opens, only some of the physicians will be working, while the remainder finish the training Neighborcare requires. Once that process is done, the clinic will be fully staffed.

“We appreciate everyone’s patience and understanding, and welcome any feedback as we get up to speed,” Schilder added.

The new clinic, called Neighborcare Health at Vashon, has retained the longtime clinic’s phone number and some of the clinic’s previous providers. The current physician list includes doctors Gary Koch, Jeff HansPetersen, Jessica Wesch and Gail Fulton, who announced last week she is closing her Vashon practice and joining Neighborcare. Nurse practitioner Julie McPherson, who has worked at the Fulton clinic for three years, will not make the move, clinic manager Kathy Henke said earlier this week. Neighborcare plans to add providers, Schilder noted, but that information might not be finalized until after the Sept. 26 opening date.

Looking ahead to the clinic’s opening, Schilder said that if patients want their medical records transferred from a previous provider, including CHI Franciscan and Fulton Family Medicine, they must request those directly from the previous medical clinic or practice.

Meanwhile, on Monday, Rick Wallace, who is heading the Save Our Clinic fundraising effort, announced that two major donations had put the group over its “close the gap” goal of $190,000 for this year and brought it to $236,000. Moreover, accounting for cash donations, pledges for the second year of the clinic’s operations and anticipated governmental funding, Wallace said they have met the $500,000 projected two-year shortfall, plus a margin of error in case some of the pledges do not come through.

Even before he had received word of the most recent major donations, Wallace said he was impressed with how quickly the island responded to Neighborcare’s request for assistance.

“The startling thing is just how the quickly the community has responded and how generously,” he said.

Neighborcare Health’s chief development officer Joseph Sparacio concurred.

“We are amazed at the generosity of the Vashon community in meeting this goal in what has to be record time,” he said. “If every neighborhood in King County had so many people invested in health care, we would have a much healthier county than we do today.”

When Neighborcare was first approached about serving Vashon, Sparacio said, agency officials evaluated the clinic’s information from previous years, accounted for increased patient visits and determined that they would likely face a $250,000 a year shortfall the first two years for core primary care services. Funds from governmental sources are expected to fund $120,000 of that, with the remainder — $380,000 — left to islanders to raise, or $190,000 each year for two years.

With time, Sparacio said, as more patients come to the clinic, particularly those with Medicaid (Apple Health), for whom Neighborcare receives a higher reimbursement than many other clinics do, Neighborcare officials believe that community financial support will no longer be needed.

“We have no plan to ask for more money in year three,” he said. “There is no strategy or plan for us to say, ‘Now you need to find more.'”

However, in the future, if islanders would like to expand services beyond what will initially be offered, additional financial assistance might be needed to help support those efforts, he added.

Currently, the money raised will go to operating expenses — such as salaries, benefits and utility bills — purchasing equipment and “a bit of a spruce up,” including painting and patching holes in walls, Sparacio said.

“We are very appreciative of the donors giving us the flexibility to use the money where it is needed in those categories,” he added.

One of those needs is an X-ray machine — a piece of equipment that costs more than $100,000. CHI Franciscan had purchased a digital box for the X-ray machine but took the box when it closed the clinic. In Seattle, Sparacio said, none of Neighborcare’s clinics have X-ray machines because radiology services are readily available nearby. On Vashon, however, it is a different situation, and Neighborcare Health has asked the island fundraising team to announce a one-time stretch goal to help cover some of the costs of ensuring that the clinic will have X-ray capabilities. Neighborcare is looking at alternative sources of funds, such as grants, but that process could take months.

“If there is a sense of urgency about getting the X-ray equipment, then the sooner the better,” Sparacio said.

Koch also spoke to the machine’s importance in caring for people with a range of illnesses and injuries, from broken bones and lung ailments to cardiac problems.

“It is vital for delivering quality primary care on Vashon,” he said. “It just is.”

In the coming weeks, islanders will continue to see many signs of the fundraising campaign online, in personal conversations and at larger meetings, including a Sept. 15 presentation hosted by Vashon Rotary. In recent days, some of the campaign’s volunteers began to staff a previously vacant downtown storefront, dubbed “The Information Station,” located between Gravy and the Glass Bottle Creamery. There, people can stop by, ask questions, fill out a form to have their CHI Franciscan records transferred and make a donation if they wish. The focus of the outreach effort intentionally extends beyond raising money, said Tag Gornall, who is active in the community campaign, and to informing people about Neighborcare and the latest developments.

“If you step in the door of the station, do not feel obligated to make a donation,” he said. “It is about conversation … a community conversation about Neighborcare and the delivery of health services.”

A large poster of frequently asked questions hangs in the window of the storefront, a space building owners Chuck Robinson and Bob Hawkins donated to the cause, and additional information sheets have been created to hand out, Gornall said. He added he and his fellow volunteers genuinely want to hear from people about what they want to know.

“What are those questions that are in people’s heads?” he added.

The community fundraising and information campaign will likely take two to three weeks, with Gornall noting that even after the money has been raised, the community conversation will need to continue.

“People will still have questions,” he said. “This is about long-term health care on the island.”

Wallace agreed.

“Much progress has been made in a record short amount of time,” he said. “Once the clinic is open, there will be time to assess what else is needed.”

Helpful information

Information Station hours: 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 5 to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Rotary presentation regarding the clinic: 6:30 p.m. social hour, 7 p.m. presentation Thursday, Sept, 15, at The Land Trust Building.

To request records from Fulton Family Medicine, stop by the office Monday, Wednesday or Friday until Oct. 6.

To request records from CHI Franciscan, stop by the Information Station, request them online or call 253-792-2400 with questions.

This updated version of the story reflects that CHI Franciscan took a component of the clinic’s X-ray equipment, not the whole machine.

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