ARLINGTON - Senator Bernie Sander made clear he is passionate about the Federally Qualified Health Center - known as the Battenkill Valley Health Center - that is coming to the Arlington, Sunderland and Sandgate area. Sanders made a stop at Mack Molding Tuesday afternoon to talk to the board of the health center about the progress made on the clinic, which is planning to open the first week of March 2014.

"Let me begin by congratulating you all on your perseverance," he said. "I do understand dealing with the federal government is not easy." Sanders has become an ally for all Federally Qualified Health Centers, or FQHCs, and has helped bring more to the state. When the new round of health centers open up these clinics will be providing a quarter of the state's population with primary health care, including dental, preventative care and mental health services. He said Vermont is a great example of real, community based health centers. In other parts of the country, many FQHCs are found in inner city urban areas.

"The need, I think is to greatly expand primary health care...this is the model that can revolutionize primary health care," Sanders said.

This FQHC will be the first of it's kind in Bennington County. If it is successful, a satellite office could open in Bennington, Sanders said.

Sanders encouraged the board to look at what other FQHCs are doing around the country and borrow ideas that work. For example, he said to look at schools and different programs that work, in educational settings, like dental clinics. Another program Sanders said to look into is the National Health Service Corps, a scholarship program to help provide rural areas with physicians.

Prevention of disease, the importance of dental care, as well as treating substance abuse issues are some of the real goals of the clinic. Sanders mentioned the hundreds of millions of dollars spent in The United States each year on the treatment of diabetes. A real health concern for both Sanders and the board members is drug use in the state, especially among young people.

"It breaks my heart that in the year 2013, that we have kids in the state of Vermont doing opiate and heroin," he said.

A real benefit to FQHCs, he said, is this program is not a partisan issue.

"Generally speaking, this has been one of those programs that had pretty bipartisan support," he said. "The President is very sympathetic."

To help make the clinic successful, Sanders encouraged that "outreach is enormously important." He also said to make sure people know the clinic is funded by the federal government, because this is a good investment of tax dollars."

"It's important for somebody living in a trailer park to know there is money available, that if they don't have health insurance, there is a sliding scale [to pay for the services they receive]," he said.

The real importance of this FQHC and others like it around the country is simple.

"It's keeping people healthy, saving people money and getting people involved," Sanders said.