For some residents of Belfast and the midcoast area, access to medical care could get easier next year with the planned opening of a new, one-stop health clinic.
The new Seaport Community Health Center, still in the planning stages, likely will be located on Congress Street in Belfast and will offer routine and preventive medical care as well as on-site services such as mental health counseling, dental care, physical therapy and a pharmacy.
While the health center will provide care to all patients, including those with private insurance, its focus will be on caring for low-income, elderly and other disadvantaged populations.
The project is being planned jointly between Penobscot Community Health Care, a federally qualified health center headquartered in Bangor, and Seacoast Family Practice, a longtime primary care practice on White Street in Belfast.
Federally qualified health centers receive enhanced payments from Medicare and Medicaid and have access to approximately $11 billion in new federal funds over the next five years courtesy of the new national health care reform legislation. PCHC is Maine’s largest federally qualified health center and a growing force in the state’s health care landscape.
Dr. David Loxtercamp of Seacoast Family Practice, who has practiced in Waldo County for 26 years, said Monday that he has always been committed to serving patients regardless of their ability to pay.
The federal designation of his practice in 1992 as a rural health center supported his ability to provide care on an income-based sliding fee basis. His recent participation in both state and national primary care demonstration projects has further expanded his patients’ access to effective, affordable care, he said.
Still, Loxtercamp said, the demand for health care in Waldo County continues to exceed capacity, especially for low-income patients and those covered by Medicare, Medicaid and high-deductible health insurance plans.
More than half of his approximately 6,300 regular patients, he said, are covered by Medicare or Medicaid — a population that finds it increasingly difficult to be seen promptly for either routine or urgent health care needs.
Loxtercamp said he has a substantial waiting list of new patients hoping to be seen for the first time, as well as some existing patients with urgent health needs who can’t wait for the next available appointment.
“It is always frustrating to have patients go to the emergency department because we can’t see them,” he said.
Joining forces with PCHC and taking advantage of its clinical and administrative resources will allow patients to be seen more quickly and to have their medical conditions managed more effectively, Loxtercamp said.
Seacoast Family Practice last week announced the addition of three new providers to its clinical staff, two doctors and a physician assistant.
In Bangor, PCHC CEO Ken Schmidt said Monday that Loxtercamp already has established a reputation as a medical leader not only in Maine but also in the nation. While plans for the new health center in Belfast are still evolving and hinge in part on PCHC receiving a national grant from the health reform funding, there is little doubt the project will get off the ground, he said.
Schmidt would not reveal the cost of constructing the new health center or the amount of grant funding PCHC will seek. But already, he said, efforts are underway to secure an appropriate building site in Belfast, and planning for the approximately 20,000 square-foot health center will not wait for the federal dollars to be awarded.
“We hope we will be working together sometime this winter,” Schmidt said of the collaboration with Loxtercamp’s practice.
The Belfast health center marks PCHC’s first project outside of the immediate Bangor area. Schmidt said the national health reform legislation paves the way for many more federally qualified health centers to provide care to a growing population of underserved Americans.
Schmidt, who formerly headed up the Regional Medical Center at Lubec, has been at the helm of PCHC since the early 2000s. Under his leadership, the organization has expanded from a single health center on Union Street to include primary care centers in Old Town, Brewer and Bangor. In 2005, PCHC acquired the physician-owned Penobscot Pediatrics group and moved it to Union Street from the campus of Eastern Maine Medical Center. Other recent acquisitions include the Warren Center for Speech and Hearing and the Hope House shelter and substance abuse program.
The organization’s most ambitious project to date, the 28,000-square-foot Brewer Medical Center, is scheduled to open today.