Battenkill Valley Health Center renovations underway, receives more funds


ARLINGTON>>The Battenkill Valley Health Center (BVHC) received $42,125 in addition to a $1 million grant that was awarded earlier this year for building renovations and expansion of medical services.

In under a year the center will add a dental practice with two doctors, seven hygienists, new dental technology, seven medical examination rooms, two nurses, two doctors and more. The building that houses operations at 9 Church St. will go through three phases of renovations by ReArch Company from South Burlington.

The second wave of funds was announced on Thursday by the Department of Health and Human Services under Sen. Bernie Sanders for IT enhancements to 1,310 health centers in every U.S. state, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and the Pacific Basin, according to a release.

Two apartments that were rented out on the top floor of BVHC have been gutted out over the past 10 days. Only one dumpster was filled with the remains while most was upcycled for the renovation or to be donated to the Habitat for Humanity, according to Kate Bryan, the health center's senior director of development.

Once the upstairs is finished, administrative offices will move in, and reconstruction will begin on the first floor. At the beginning of 2017 is when medical services will be active on the first floor and then the basement will be renovated. On that level, a community kitchen will be built as well as an employee gym and conference area. No major construction will be made to the health center because most existing structures will be transformed to expand services.

The goal is to establish a full service clinical campus. The initial steps involved purchasing the building that the center currently resides in and the adjacent one that Dr. Richard Barbieri practices out of.

Grace Gilbert-Davis, BVHC's CEO noted that the push for this type of medical center has to do with the lack of access to dentists in southwestern Vermont. The health center surveyed Bennington, Shaftsbury, Arlington and Manchester in 2015 to determine access to a dentist. Findings showed that out of the 13 dentists, five are accepting new patients, three have wait lists, one will only take self-pay and two did not return survey messages. Furthermore, the dentists taking new patients are booking appointments 90 days out for a routine cleaning, none provide speciality pediatric dental care and out of the five accepting new patients, it is unknown if they accept Medicaid according to the health center's grant request document.

The new dental practice will be run by Dr. Stephen Phillips, chief dental officer.

Also stated in the document was a list of findings documented in 2013 from the Vermont Dental Landscape Report. It talks about how those with medicaid have greater barriers when it comes to access to dental care and that a number of people between 18 and 64 have lost teeth from decay or disease.

Gilbert-Davis explained the center's 30 year strategy to sustain a clinic in the heart of Arlington by recruiting established nurses as well as younger professionals who wish to settle down in the town.

"The goal of hiring someone like that is to create a succession plan. This is a goal of mine for both dental and medical. When you have someone of [mid 50s] on board, it's much easier to recruit a physician just coming out of residency," Gilbert-Davis said. "That individual I would really hope would commit to the community. That's a really lofty goal because there are currently 135 family practice openings in Vermont. Thirty-four of which are in southern Vermont."

She explained that it's a challenge for every medical center to retain staff, but she hopes the geographical area is attractive enough including the school system, recreational activities and the "relaxed lifestyle."

The IT enhancement grant was made available by the Affordable Care Act's Community Health Center Fund as an extension of the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA) of 2015. It supports health centers' "transition to value-based models of care, improve efforts to share and use information to support better decisions," according to a release from the Department of Health and Human Services secretary Sylvia M. Burwell.

— Contact Makayla-Courtney McGeeney at 802-490-6471.


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