BELFAST, Maine — The medical practitioners at Seaport Family Practice say they have been expanding their services to better care for the people of Waldo County since it was founded a quarter century ago.
Now, thanks to a new partnership with Penobscot Community Health Care of Bangor, those services will be enlarged in a way they call groundbreaking.
Ken Schmidt, CEO of the Bangor health center, said it is “very, very likely” the agencies will receive a large federal grant to make Seaport a Federally Qualified Health Center, a designation that would allow it to qualify for enhanced reimbursement from Medicaid and Medicare and receive grants under the Public Health Service Act. Such centers must offer a sliding fee scale, provide comprehensive services, serve the underserved and have a governing board of directors.
The grant would provide more than $600,000 annually and would be used in part to build a new health center and provide 50 to 60 new jobs with benefits, Schmidt said.
“We are very hopeful about this. Waldo County is the only county in Maine that doesn’t have a Federally Qualified Health Center,” he said Wednesday night to an estimated 130 people who attended a public presentation at the University of Maine Hutchinson Center. “I would be extremely surprised if we were turned down.”
If approved, the community health center likely would be built in the spring of 2012. Even if the grant is not approved, he said, Seaport still will join PCHC.
“The time is right, the need is there,” Dr. David Loxterkamp, who helped start the practice in 1985, said in a press release. “Seaport Family Practice is willing and ready. What we need now is community support and involvement to bring a community health center to Belfast.”
He said the center would have an emphasis on community health and include services such as dentistry, more integrated mental health care, a pharmacy and rehabilitation.
A community health center would be good for Waldo County, said Jennifer Gunderman-King, the district liaison for Maine Center for Disease Control. Although the county’s 38,000 residents are not, despite popular belief, the oldest in Maine, have low rates of infant mortality and lower-than-state-average rates of cancer and diabetes deaths, there are trouble spots, she said.
The county has higher-than-state-average rates of youth substance abuse, obesity, teen birth, preventative care, mental health care, Lyme disease and adult suicide, she said. One in five children live under the poverty level of $21,200 for a four-person household, and 15 percent of adults and 8 percent of children are uninsured.