Photo: Community Health Rutland location in Brandon, VT. Courtesy Photo.
by Joyce Marcel, Vermont Business Magazine Community Health Centers of the Rutland Region, based in Rutland, is the largest of the 12 federally qualified health centers (FQHC) in the state of Vermont. (FQHCs, created in 1965 during Pres. Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty, was designed to provide health care services in rural and underserved areas. In Vermont, they provide care to approximately one in four Vermonters.)
CHCCR opened in 2004, providing a network of medical, dental and behavioral health care. It’s grown to include seven medical facilities and a pharmacy — in Rutland, Brandon, West Pawlet (Mettowee), Shorewell, Castleton, Community Health Pediatrics, Community Health Dental and the Brandon Community Pharmacy. In 2019, it handled close to 187,900 patient visits. It provided care to over 41,800 patients in the Rutland County-southern Addison County region, which includes over three-quarters of the residents of Rutland County.
Photo: Community Health Rutland location in Mettowee, VT. Courtesy Photo.
For 2020, CHCRR is reporting revenues of $45 million. It has an 80 percent market share in the Rutland area, according to Jill Jesso-White, community relations specialist and corporate compliance officer.
The company employs approximately 400 people and has had no layoffs due to COVID-19.
“We were able to keep everybody,” Jesso-White said. “We had no staff person who had their position or their hours cut. We're very proud of that.”
She added that she was not aware of any COVID-19 outbreaks on the staff.
CHCRR is growing, Jesso-White said.
“We have gotten the providers,” she said. “We have medical doctors, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, and licensed social workers. We have two sites now where we have dentistry. We have three dentists on staff now. We're now actively looking for someone in pediatric dentistry.”
Photo: Community Health Rutland Pediatrics. Courtesy Photo.
Many areas of Vermont find it difficult to attract qualified MDs and other health professionals. CHCRR is no different.
“We haven't had a hard time retaining, but it's difficult to attract providers,” Jesso-White said. “We offer a lifestyle out-of-doors and real hands-on work with a population that really needs us. Still, it is a little bit tough to find people.”
Naturally, COVID-19 has changed the way CHCRR delivers its services.
“We've been here serving our patients all through COVID,” Jesso-White said. “We have done some drive-in clinics. Anyone suspected of having COVID, we saw them in an outside tent area. That went well, but obviously it can't be done in the winter. We're now able to see people inside. People are screened at the door, their temperature is taken, and they are questioned about possible COVID-19 exposure.”
Other changes have also been made.
“Like everybody else, we've stocked up on our PPEs,” Jesso-White said, referring to the personal protective equipment used by front-line health care workers to protect them from catching the virus.
“The only thing we had to do is train staff on the PPEs, because that's not something we were needing to use in the care we provided,” Jesso-White said. “Our chief medical officer keeps everyone apprised of changes in COVID.”
Delivering health care services digitally is another way CHCRR has adapted to the pandemic.
“Telehealth is a big thing we did over COVID,” Jesso-White said. “It went very well. We ended up jumping into that quicker than we expected.”
Digital health care has worked especially well for the company's behavioral health counsellors.
“With established patients, we're able to see them and it cuts down on the no-show rate,” Jesso-White said. “Digital makes it very acceptable. And while we can't give a physical that way, telehealth works well for follow-up on the medical side.”
CHCRR has also made some structural changes.
“We've updated our HVAC system to make the air rotate quicker and make a safer environment,” Jesso-White said.
All these changes mean that CHCRR has continued to provide a good continuity of care for all its patients.
“It's also a very good environment for staff,” she said. “We give our staff good training and good benefits. I've been here five and a half years now and like it very much. We're like a family. When the virus hit, we were right there and ready to care for all of our patients. And we still are.”
Photo: Ryan Waltzer at the Community Heatlth Rutland. Courtesy Photo.