Future of health center now up in the air
Southwest Community Health Center recently announced that it would close its facility in Hillsboro, which opened in 2013 and has served more than 1,800 patients since. But according to SWCHC Executive Director Samira Godil, the changes to the nonprofit organization may not stop there.
Godil says SWCHC will begin transitioning Hillsboro patients to the Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center in Hillsboro and plans to eventually transition patients of the Southwest Portland center to Virginia Garcia's new building in Beaverton, which will open in June. The building in Multnomah could then be sold and operated by a new owner, she said. Godil described the transition as a partnership between SWCHC and Virginia Garcia, but she said SWCHC may close entirely at some point soon.
"In the long run, I don't think Southwest Community Health Center will be there," Godil said.
SWCHC opened in Multnomah in 2005 and later opened the second center in Hillsboro. Both facilities provide uninsured residents in the area with medical care.
Godil said the recent decision to transition patients to Virginia Garcia was made in part due to receding public funding. And she said cuts to the Oregon ScreenWise program, which operates through the Oregon Health Authority and provides screenings for patients, hit the centers particularly hard.
Godil also said issues such as housing and the opioid epidemic have become more attractive to grant providers than serving the uninsured.
"(The Oregon ScreenWise program) was a chunk of our budget every year," Godil said. "Foundations have been focusing on other issues in the community, and this is a good option for the patients. Our goal and our mission is to best serve the patients."
Godil said the SWCHC board considered trying to certify the two centers as Federally Qualified Health Centers so that they could serve Medicaid patients as well as the uninsured, but ran into a few hurdles. For one, the center in Southwest Portland could not qualify as an FQHC because it is not located in a medically underserved location. And the Hillsboro market is crowded with other FQHCs.
"Having a third one (along with Virginia Garcia and the Neighborhood Health Center) does not make sense. We'd all be competing for the same patients," Godil said. "It's best that we join hands with somebody else."
Godil said Virginia Garcia treats a similar population to SWCHC and also provides more extensive services. Unlike SWCHC, Virginia Garcia provides dental, mental health and vision care and has a pharmacy.
"They are very culturally sensitive. They have a very professional approach. They have an excellent admin team, an excellent clinical team. They provide great care," she said.
Godil said SWCHC is still negotiating with Virginia Garcia about whether or not SWCHC staff will be included in the transition. She said the health center in Southwest Portland could be sold soon, but she is not sure what will happen with the building. Regardless, she said the majority of patients at the Southwest Portland center live in Beaverton or near Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway and that the commute to the Beaverton center won't be onerous for Southwest Portland residents.
"It's going to be a change for everybody, but I think change brings opportunity too, and I feel this change will be really great for our patients," Godil said.