Community health centers in New Hampshire and across the nation are at tremendous risk. Without Congress’s action by Sept. 30, health center funding will immediately be cut by 70 percent.
The National Health Service Corps (NHSC) funding, which goes hand-in-hand with the health center funding by supporting providers dedicated to working in underserved areas, will be eliminated. Nationally, the Department of Health and Human Services estimates that this “funding cliff” could lead to about 3,000 health center sites closing their doors, 50,000 Americans losing their jobs, and 9 million losing their health care.
In New Hampshire, 12 federally funded health centers provide primary care, substance use disorder treatment, oral health services, and behavioral health services to over 89,000 citizens in underserved areas. Granite Staters will lose access to health care services when we need them the most, in the midst of an opioid epidemic, if the funding cliff isn’t fixed.
Community health centers save the American health care system billions of dollars every year ($1,263 per patient per year) by keeping people healthy and out of hospital emergency departments. Research has found that a substantial proportion of ER visits are either non-urgent or could have been avoided through timely primary care. Health centers play a vital role in reducing these avoidable ER visits by providing accessible, continuous and comprehensive primary care, especially to those at risk of using the ER for avoidable or preventable care.
Health center funding is specifically designed to provide access to care for patients in communities where doctors and services are scarce or non-existent. A 70 percent reduction in the funding of New Hampshire’s health centers means an estimated loss of nearly $16 million, with almost half of health center patients in New Hampshire losing access to health care.
Health center leadership in New Hampshire described a loss this big as “devastating,” as they would have to close sites, change their sliding fee discount programs, and eliminate services including dental and substance use disorder treatment.
For example, one CEO whose health center is located in an urban section of New Hampshire devastated by the opioid crisis, would have to terminate all services outside of primary care – leaving 2,200 patients who receive their dental, pharmacy, behavioral health, and substance use disorder care at this center with no place to turn.
The “funding cliff” also encompasses elimination of the NHSC funding, which allows primary care medical, dental and behavioral health clinicians to repay their health student loans in exchange for a two-year commitment to work at an approved NHSC site in a high-need, under-served area.
Over 55 percent of NHSC loan repayment awards are made to providers working in community health centers. NHSC funding is a critical resource for health centers in recruiting competent clinicians and attracting them to New Hampshire because it is more difficult to recruit clinicians in the rural and underserved areas of our state.
Our state is already experiencing a primary care workforce shortage with 132 reported health center and safety net provider vacancies. Any lapse in NHSC funding will be catastrophic for clinical field strength in New Hampshire.
I urge you to support the continuation of health center and NHSC funding so that health centers can continue to serve New Hampshire communities and patients. Please call your members of Congress (dial 1-866-456-3949) to ask them to fix the “funding cliff.” The health of the Granite State depends on it.
Tess Stack Kuenning is president and CEO of Bi-State Primary Care Association.
SOMERSWORTH — Although the merger between Goodwin Community Health and Families First Health and Support Center has been in the works for three years, the collaboration between the two organizations goes back a lot further.
The two public health centers plan to merge by year’s end and held two public forums recently. At the Dover forum, David Staples, chairman of the board of Goodwin Community Health, talked about how the merger idea came up three years ago.
“One thing led to another,” he said. “We started having monthly meetings and said let’s do this.”
Once the merger is complete, Goodwin CEO Janet Laatsch will lead the merged organization as CEO. Laatsch, who has expertise in finance and nursing, has served as CEO since 2005. Helen Taft, Families First’s executive director since 1989, will retire once the transition is complete.
Taft said there’s already been a lot of cooperation and collaboration between the organizations.
According to a statement, Goodwin and Families First share similar heritages and values and nearly identical missions. They also share a 30-year history of collaborating on best practices, staffing solutions and population health programs, like mobile health care, to meet the needs of their adjoining service areas in southeastern New Hampshire and southern Maine.
Taft said Families First has two mobile medical vans that have traveled to Strafford County for many years.
“We really started to look at this five years ago,” Taft said. “We share a lot of the same patients who often move back and forth because of the cost of housing.”
Taft said there’s been a lot of talk on regionalization and mergers in health care.
“We are two of the most integrated health care centers in the state,” she said. “We can share experiences. We’ve both done a lot with the substance misuse and medically assisted treatment and the intensive outpatient program.”
Taft said there is a lot of synergy. Families First offers parenting programs that are needed in Strafford County.
“The economies of scale and consolidating administration will help,” she said. “Bigger can be better when it comes to access to capital and grants.”
Taft said the merged organizations will help with staff retention and give both units more bench depth.
Laatsch said both organizations have resources the other doesn’t. She called the merger a tremendous evolution for both organizations that will ultimately benefit patients by broadening community health care and sharing best practices.
“Throughout the process of becoming a single organization, our focus will be on continued patient-centered care to every single Families First and Goodwin Community Health patient,” she said.
State Sen. David Watters, D-Dover, attended the Dover forum and said the merger is terrific for these two organizations.
“They’re so well-known there’s a real synergy here to create a regional organization to improve health care outcomes while still respecting the missions of the two organizations,” Watters said. “We’re at a very exciting moment in health care.”
Jeffrey Hughes, vice president and chief strategy officer at Wentworth-Douglass Hospital, said they support the merger.
“In my 30 years in health care, I believe this to be one of the most challenging periods we have ever seen,” Hughes said. “This merger will help prepare and also allow for sharing of the best ideas.”
Staples said they are doing the right thing, at the right time, for all the right reasons.
“We have done the due diligence and a lot of work over the past three years and there’s a lot of work ahead for all of us,” Staples said.
The merged organization will include Families First facilities in Portsmouth and Seabrook, Goodwin Community Health in Somersworth, and mobile health clinics in five Seacoast towns. For more information, visit GoodwinCH.org and FamiliesFirstSeacoast.org.
In an uncertain health care environment, Janet Laatsch, CEO of Goodwin Community Health – the Somersworth-based community health center that provides primary health care and more for thousands of patient and clients in Strafford and Carroll counties and parts of southern Maine – tries to assess how the repealing, replacing or dramatically scaling back the Affordable Care Act will affect organizations like hers.
Goodwin has community roots stretching back to 1969, when founder Avis Goodwin started the first prenatal clinic in the country. Earlier this year, Goodwin announced a merger with Families First Health & Support Center of Portsmouth to combine the strengths of each organization and to position the organizations for stronger negotiating and price bargaining positions.
The merger is expected to be completed in the fall and will serve an estimated 17,000 clients at Families First facilities in Portsmouth and Seabrook, Goodwin Community Health in Somersworth and mobile health clinics in five Seacoast towns.
Laatsch, who has a background in nursing and finance (she has an MBA from the University of New Hampshire), joined Goodwin in 2001 and will lead the merged entity, which will retain locations and names.
Q. Why the merger with Families First?
A. It makes good sense, and with all that’s happening in the health care industry, the timing could not be more perfect to regionalize health care delivery services.
What makes community health centers unique is that our staff and board members live in and know the communities they serve. We’ve already had a long history of collaborating on best practices. We are both strong organizations in excellent financial shape with legacies of patient-centered care and cutting-edge work.
They do a lot more than we do on the development side, and they have used mobile vans for health and dental care, which we plan to use in our area. We have a pharmacy and they don’t, so we will be able to extend those privileges to their patients. We want some of our model and we want some of theirs.
Helen Taft (Families First CEO) and I knew this was a great merging of synergies that would benefit the region and allows to negotiate better deals as a larger organization.
Q. How did the merger process unfold?
A. Beginning in 2013, the boards of Goodwin and Families First began having proactive discussions about a merger that would leverage the strengths of both organizations. It was a very long process.
We did internal and financial and contractual due diligence, and then even more financial due diligence with projections for a combined budget. I was humbled because Families First raises about $1.2 million in development funds and we were only raising around $200,000. It was a good, honest process and when it was over we could see how this will benefit everyone. We will be able to leverage our combined budgets and unique programs for more substantial grants for family programs, dental and medical care and substance abuse programs.
Q. What is one of the misunderstood aspects of the substance abuse crisis?
A. We identified a major need and have put a strong focus on behavioral health since 2008 to deal not just with the recovery aspect of addiction. While there is so much focus on the opioid crisis, alcoholism gets diagnosed more, and more people are dying from it. It’s been around a lot longer and it’s hidden more easily than illicit drugs.
Q. How are your concerns about the various proposal to replace the ACA?
A. We hope not to go backwards. Clearly Medicaid expansion has helped us serve patients who didn’t have any insurance coverage. We have cut our uninsured rate from 35 percent to 19 percent, about 1,000 patients (the merged organization will have an estimated 3,200 uninsured patients).
The proposals to cut Medicaid would give states autonomy without the money and that will mean a shrinking of our financial resources. This is unfortunate if we do go back to where we were because studies have shown that Medicaid coverage saves money and costs 24 percent less than other forms of coverage. We will still have a sliding fee and because community health centers have faced tough times before, we know how to stretch our dollars. And we have strong community support from major organizations like the Business and Industry Association of New Hampshire, which understand the value we bring.
Q. What has feedback about the merger been?
A. We haven’t heard from one person who thinks it’s a bad idea. The donors and staff at Families First get it, and both organizations are seeing what each other can offer the other. We don’t plan any layoffs among our combined 240 employees, and in fact still have open positions for physicians, and we would love to hire a psychiatrist.
SOMERSWORTH and PORTSMOUTH, August 28, 2017 – The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) recently announced that it will award a combined $267,000 to two community health centers serving the Greater Seacoast area. Goodwin Community Health of Somersworth was awarded $123,000, and $144,000 will go to Families First Health and Support Center of Portsmouth. The health centers, who intend to merge this fall, will use these funds to continue enhancing access to low-cost, quality health and wellness services. Specific areas of focus will include improving quality of care, increasing access to care to vulnerable populations, enhancing delivery of high-value health care, addressing health disparities and maintaining their highest-level (Level 3) Patient-Centered Medical Home status.
Janet Laatsch, who will lead the merged organization as CEO, commented on the funding, “Being recognized for achievements in driving down costs for both patients and the healthcare system as a whole, helps expand access to services to the people that need them. With continued support, we can keep increasing efficiencies to develop quality improvement systems and work to create more access in the communities we serve in the greater Strafford and Rockingham County areas.”
In total, nearly $105 million has been awarded by DHHS to 1,333 health centers across the country. The funding directed to the Seacoast area of New Hampshire builds on the investment in quality improvement made by DHHS through annual awards since 2014, including a total of $250,000 awarded to Goodwin and Families First last year. According to new data released by the Health Resources and Services Administration, nearly 26 million people relied on a health center for primary health care in 2016. This included one in three people living in poverty, one in 10 children under age 18 and one in six rural residents in the United States.
To learn more about Goodwin Community Health visit www.GoodwinCH.org
To learn more about Families First Visit www.familiesfirstseacoast.org/
The Health Resources and Services Administration is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. HRSA is the primary federal agency responsible for improving access to health care services for people who are uninsured, isolated, or medically vulnerable. For more information about HRSA and its programs, visit www.hrsa.gov
The next Empowering Whole Health support group will be starting Wednesday, September 6th from 4:30 to 6pm here at Goodwin, and meets weekly for 11 weeks.
Empowering Whole Health is open to the public, so anyone and everyone is welcome! The group focuses on goal setting and how to realistically reach your goals for health and wellness. Our past group members (since 2014) have all had amazing results in meeting their goals including
- Weight loss
- Coping with chronic pain and other long-term conditions
- Stress and anxiety reduction
- Finding employment
- Quitting smoking
- And much more!
Patients and group participants have seen some terrific results, here’s one testimonial from Empowering Whole Health alumni Sheri McSheehy.
Other comments from past participants have included:
“This group was just what I needed at this time in my life. Thank you!”
“Nice to have others to talk to, enjoyed it thoroughly!”
“This group taught me I am not alone with my physical/emotional struggles. The subjects shared helped bring me back to life and gave me hope. Thank you.”
“Loved the meditation aspects of the group.”
“Participating as a peer leader was an amazing experience. Thank you Goodwin for hosting this group and making it possible for our community.”
If you or someone you know is interested or has any questions, please contact us at (603) 994-6356.
All things considered, Strafford County is an unremarkable corner of New Hampshire.
This is no criticism of the region and those who call it home. Quite the contrary: From the wooded tranquility of Barrington to the bustle of Durham’s campus life, Strafford is full of the sort of hometown warmth that can quickly charm any tourist into believing that they’ve lived there all of their lives.
It’s a county that’s chock full of ‘Anytown USAs,’ and for this very reason it’s a place where the nation’s opioid epidemic is alive and well.
No zip code in America is immune to the crisis, but rural communities like Strafford that struggle with bleak job prospects and high rates of poverty are fertile ground for the behaviors that can lead to substance misuse. In short, any place where tomorrow may not be any better than today is where this crisis lives.
While rediscovering hope is the driving force behind recovery, access to affordable treatment is what makes all of the work possible — and few know this better than Goodwin Board Member Whitney Galeucia.
The search for access
Whitney moved to Rochester in the summer of 2014 and made her way to local a medication assisted treatment program for those coping with substance misuse, “It was great and I really benefited from being there,” she remarked. “But when it got to the point to start the outpatient program, it was going to cost me $30 per visit three times a week. Add to that the $130 fee every time I needed to see a provider and it just wasn’t affordable.”
Whitney eventually found herself working with a Goodwin staff member who helped her to sign up for the New Hampshire Health Protection Program (NHHPP), the state’s Medicaid Expansion effort under the Affordable Care Act.
“The people at Goodwin helped me to go over my finances, fill out all of the paperwork, get enrolled in the NHHP, and finally afford the treatment I needed for my recovery,” she said. “I had absolutely no idea that any of this was available to me. I’d never been on any kind of state insurance before … without help from Goodwin, I would have felt too overwhelmed and given up on the whole thing.”
Giving voice to the epidemic
That was all back in 2014, today Whitney is well on the way to recovery.
She’s down to 6 milligrams of the opioid treatment Suboxone after starting out on 16 milligrams, with the goal of being completely off the drug by the end of this year. She’s steadily working at a job that she loves, paying off her student loans, and serves as a member on Goodwin’s Board of Directors.
As a Goodwin patient recovering from substance misuse, Whitney views her role on the board as a way to bring focus to the opioid crisis that so many Granite Staters are working to overcome, “A big part of being in recovery is learning how to use your voice,” she said. Going on to say that she saw her role on the board as “a chance to be a voice for the recovery community.”
It was plain to see that Whitney was a woman on a mission, someone determined to stare down her demons and chart a brand new pathway forward on her own terms. But amid all of the optimism, she revealed that there was one overarching fear that hung over her head every step of the way: whether or not the NHHPP was going to continue to be there for her.
When scariest thing about recovery isn’t recovery
With the looming possibility of huge cuts to NHHPP funding, working class Americans like Whitney who are struggling with recovery from opioid misuse can easily find themselves without access to everything from mental health services to inpatient treatment programs. Indeed, with so many former opioid users living on the fringes of society, a sudden loss of affordable health coverage carries huge health risks to those who are currently in treatment — a reality that Whitney is already beginning to plan for.
“I watch the news and find myself shaking from fear,” she revealed. “I have so much on the line here, and while I trust God and his plan for my life, all of these fears are still there. I have a job that I adore, but there’s no way I would be able to afford my recovery and still have money to put food on the table without Medicaid. It’s a huge part of why I’m aiming to be off Suboxone by the end of the year. I don’t want to leave anything to chance.”
Facing the trials of substance recovery is difficult enough on its own, but the idea of someone hurrying along the pace of that process for fear of losing health insurance coverage was staggering. Though she expressed no concern for herself, she noted that the added stress of losing access to care was exactly the kind of fear that could drive many to “make the same bad decisions that lead them back to always feeling the need to chase a high.”
Hope — the ultimate treatment
In spite of all that she’s willing to share about her experiences, what’s most impressive about Whitney is the positive outlook that she viewed every aspect of her life through. Whether she was discussing her struggle to get clean or the tension of maintaining health coverage, every word of hers is accompanied by a confident smile that lit up the room.
When asked what she would say to someone who saw Medicaid spending as an expensive handout in need of trimming, she paused for a moment, flashed that humble grin and replied, “The growth I’ve had since 2014 has been tremendous. Every day I tell myself that this entire struggle is only temporary. So, I would tell them that I’m going to be dynamite someday, but just give me one more year.”
Dover, NH, June 1, 2017 – On Sunday June 18th, Goodwin Community Health will stage its 8th annual Father’s Day 5K at Margaritas Mexican Restaurant in Dover. With registration still open, the Somersworth community health center invites area residents of all experience levels to run, jog, or walk with them as they celebrate fatherhood in all of its forms. Sponsored by New Hampshire Healthy Families, Pelmac Industries, and Margaritas, all proceeds from the annual event will go toward the work that Goodwin does to bring quality and affordable healthcare to the residents of Greater Strafford County.
The Father’s Day 5K is a proud member of the Dover Race Series and takes place on a certified course, complete with complimentary breakfast burritos and other Margaritas-style food and fiesta after the race.
This year, Goodwin’s annual 5K comes on heels of the organization’s announced intention to merge with Families First Health and Support Center of Portsmouth. By joining forces, the two groups plan to pioneer a regionalized delivery system to deliver integrated care to the Seacoast.
“There are big things on the horizon for the way Goodwin and Families First serve their respective communities, but family-friendly traditions like the Father’s Day 5K are a reminder of deep hometown roots that Goodwin has planted in this neighborhood,” says Travis R. Morin, Goodwin’s Marketing Director and first time 5K Race Director.
“Organizing a 5K is a new experience for me, but with all of the amazing support from the community this race almost seems to ‘run’ itself – pun intended!”
Those looking to participate in this year’s race can follow this link for details and registration. Registration forms can be completed online, or printed out and mailed to Goodwin Community Health at 311 Route 108 in Somersworth. Same day registration is available beginning at 8:00am and the race will begin at 9:00am. Day of registration is $25.00 dollars, but advanced registration is only $20.00 for adults and $5.00 for children under twelve. All participants are encouraged to wear a necktie to honor fathers, grandfathers, and other father-figures that play a special role in our lives.
The top male and female runner will each win a $50.00 gift certificate to Runners Alley. Gift certificates to Philbrick’s Sports will go to the top males and females in each of the twelve age divisions: 14 and under, 15-19, 20-24, 25-29, 30-34, 35-39, 40-44, 45-49, 50-55, 55-59, 60-69, and 70+.
New Hampshire Healthy Families -a health care enterprise that helps to bring affordable and reliable health care plans to Granite Staters- joins Pelmac Industries and Margaritas as the 5K’s top sponsors. Additional sponsors include: Philbrick’s Sports, Liberty Mutual, Convenient MD, Well Sense Health Plan, Service Credit Union, Garrison Women’s Health, Northeast Credit Union, Clark Insurance, Quest Diagnostics, Runner’s Alley, Dover Women’s Health, and Dead River Company.
Goodwin Community Health is the only 501©(3) Community Health Center serving the Greater Strafford County area of New Hampshire and Maine. They make it affordable for local people to access the wellness services and quality primary care that lead to good physical, dental and behavioral health. For more information on the Father’s Day 5K visit www.GoodwinCH.org or www.doverraceseries.com.
For questions, please contact Travis R. Morin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Goodwin Community Health of Somersworth and Families First Health & Support Center of Portsmouth today announced their intent to merge. The boards of directors of both organizations have unanimously agreed to become one organization by the end of 2017.
The strategic merger will create a single, regional organization that improves patient care and health outcomes through clinical integration, increases access to care and services, and positions the new organization to meet the demands of a rapidly changing health care system. It also brings operational efficiencies, economies of scale, and advantages in recruiting and retaining clinical staff.
Both Families First and Goodwin will continue doing business under their current names and at current locations.
Once the merger is complete, Goodwin CEO Janet Laatsch will lead the merged organization as CEO. Laatsch, who has expertise in finance and nursing, has served as CEO since 2005. Helen Taft, Families First Executive Director since 1989, will retire once the transition is complete.
During a deliberate three-year planning process, the organizations identified serious health care challenges in the region. These include high levels of chronic disease, lack of access to behavioral health and substance abuse treatment, provider shortages and an aging population — all in an increasingly complex and uncertain health-care landscape. The merger will boost the health centers’ ability to meet these challenges while expanding access to integrated primary, behavioral, prenatal and dental care; substance misuse services; public health and wellness services; and parent and family programs
“We are excited about what this merger will offer our patients,” says Laatsch. “This is a tremendous evolution for both organizations and will ultimately benefit patients by broadening our position in community health care and sharing best practices. Throughout the process of becoming a single organization, our focus will be on continued patient-centered care to every single Families First and Goodwin Community Health patient.”
Helen Taft says, “My goals before retiring have been to position Families First for the future in an ever- evolving health care environment and to maintain our mission and ability to respond to community needs. I am confident that we will achieve these goals through this reorganization into a larger entity.”
Goodwin and Families First share similar heritages and values and nearly identical missions. Both non-profit Community Health Centers began as prenatal clinics and later expanded to offer integrated primary care, dental and behavioral health services. They also share a 30-year history of collaborating on best practices, staffing solutions, and population health programs, like mobile health care, to meet the needs of their adjoining service areas in southeastern New Hampshire and southern Maine.
Public forums to share more detailed information and address questions will be held at Goodwin Community Health, at 311 Route 108 in Somersworth, on June 21 at 5:30 p.m, and at Families First, at 100 Campus Drive in Portsmouth, on June 22 at 5 p.m. All are welcome.
The merged organization will include Families First facilities in Portsmouth and Seabrook, Goodwin Community Health in Somersworth, and mobile health clinics in five Seacoast towns. For more information on the organizations and merger plans, visit GoodwinCH.org or FamiliesFirstSeacoast.org.
The Japanese have a saying: a person is whatever room they’re in. On the day of March 20th, 2017, Sheri McSheehy was in a Goodwin Community Health conference room full of policy makers and muffins.
A patient and former member of the Goodwin Board of Directors, Sheri had come to the morning’s Legislative Breakfast to share her story with the state representatives in attendance – a story that began almost two years ago with what she thought was a migraine.
“In October of 2015, I had a bad headache which turned out to be a brain bleed from a brain aneurysm,” remarked Sheri in front of a packed room of policy makers. “They sent me to Maine Medical for a few weeks, but when I got home it was a six month wait to see a neurologist. So I came to Goodwin and said ‘Ok, what do we do?’”
A 38 year native of Strafford County, Sheri and her husband Jack had been Goodwin patients for over two decades; coming in for everything from primary care to the birth of their youngest daughter. Both self-employed, Jack as a carpenter and Sheri the owner-operator of a local restaurant, Goodwin’s model of affordable patient care fit right into the family’s way of life. She’d go on to join the Board of Directors and play an active role in the building of the new Somersworth facility, all while she was going back to school and achieving her lifelong dream of becoming a massage therapist. But her 2015 aneurysm and the road to recovery had other plans for Sheri.
“I missed massage terribly and I was so angry from being without it — everything I worked for was lost,” she recalled. “But through counseling and my physical therapy, I saw that my life wasn’t over.”
Sheri spoke warmly of the Goodwin doctors, physical therapists, and counselors who have been by her side these past few years, but she credits much of her success to Goodwin’s Whole Health Action Management (WHAM) program: a weekly patient-led support group that puts an emphasis on setting achievable goals for those recovering from long-term illnesses or disabilities. Without costing its participants a single dime, WHAM provides patients with a compassionate hub of friends and neighbors, each of whom understand that potent role that a sense of community plays for striving to heal.
While she views WHAM as the turning point in her struggle against the chronic headaches and fatigue that come after an aneurysm, Sheri will tell you that even a support group can come with its own share of obstacles.
“I remember the first night I was there for a meeting: we were in a large conference room and right next door was a meeting of the very Board of Directors that I sat on before my aneurysm. I stopped and thought to myself ‘I’m in the wrong room.’ But then I realized that anyone can have a setback like this: it doesn’t matter who you are or how much money you make. Yeah, I felt broken — but I know I’m gonna get fixed.”
We’re admittedly a little biased, but from our point of view any room Sheri is in is always the right room.