Funding partners propel North Canaan health center toward launch

Construction of the new health center is nearing completion.

John Coston

Funding partners propel North Canaan health center toward launch

NORTH CANAAN — With the snip of a ribbon by dignitaries Friday, May 10, followed by an open house Saturday, May 11, a new federally qualified health center (FQHC) serving the Northwest Corner will open for business after two decades of planning fueled by a major infusion of financial support from strategic regional health care partners.

Joanne Borduas, CEO of Community Health & Wellness Center (CHWC), which is building the regional facility, described vital support from the Sharon-based Foundation for Community Health (FCH), Sharon Hospital/Nuvance Health, Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation (BTCF) and its Fund for the Northwest Corner as “a testament to our shared commitment to community health.”

The state-of-the-art health care center’s mission is to offer integrated medical and behavioral health services aimed at addressing the region’s dearth of health care providers, limited access to care and transportation challenges impacting both financially stable families and those less fortunate.

“This partnership will only make us stronger in meeting the health care needs of the community,” said Christina McCulloch, president of Sharon Hospital.

Nuvance Health/Sharon Hospital is among partners who have joined with FCH in contributing to the regional initiative. Nuvance has pledged a multiyear, $650,000 total gift to include $300,000 in funding and an additional $350,000 of in-kind services.

Examples of in-kind services, said McCulloch, include anything from donations of medical equipment commonly found in a health care setting to services like lab work, such as blood tests, imaging and screenings.

“I think what we are seeing in rural settings such as the Northwest Corner are challenges with health care access locally,” said McCulloch. “That could be related to the lack of providers and the lack of public transportation. A lot of the social determinants of health come into play when you talk about access to health care.”

Along with Sharon Hospital, the new North Canaan health center, she said, will make access to services stronger and more easily accessible to residents in the rural Northwest Corner, “and we would hope to see that preventative care is easier to attain.”

McCulloch credited the alliance of strategic partners with aiming to “enhance value, availability and appropriateness of care for the entire community, especially those at higher risk for avoidable care.”

Personalized attention regardless of status

Accessibility to all is a common refrain among alliance members.

“Our patient-centered care model will ensure that each individual receives personalized attention, regardless of their financial circumstances or insurance status,” said Borduas. “The focus on individualized care is integral to our mission of promoting health equity.”

The North Canaan facility, she explained, will offer integrated medical and behavioral health services, providing a one-stop destination for comprehensive health care.

“This approach ensures that patients can access a range of services conveniently, addressing both physical and mental health needs,” Borduas explained.

The expansion of services is also projected to have a positive economic impact on the community, noted Borduas.

“This includes the creation of new jobs, both directly within our organization and indirectly through support services. By contributing to the local economy, we aim to strengthen the overall well-being of our community.”

CHWC participates with most state and commercial insurance plans, utilizing a sliding fee scale to ensure accessibility for individuals of all financial backgrounds. Serving more than 6,000 patients, the not-for-profit organization, and the sole federally qualified health center in the rural Northwest Corner, operates health centers in Torrington and Winsted in addition to the North Canaan facility.

The organization offers physical and mental health services through school-based health centers in all Torrington schools with plans to expand to three schools in the Region One district.

A 20-year vision fulfilled

Nancy Heaton, president and CEO of FCH, expressed excitement that after two decades of planning, the new health center has become a reality:

“As we mark FCH’s 20th anniversary, there is no better way to celebrate than by fulfilling our vision of supporting CHWC’s new regional health care center to address our rural health care crisis.”

Heaton’s foundation, which serves a rural 17-town region where Northwest Connecticut and the Greater Harlem Valley meet, has contributed $1.3 million for the purchase of the North Canaan property and project needs, plus an additional $650,000 toward startup costs, adding to a $3 million bond secured with the help of state Rep. Maria Horn (D-64) from the state toward construction.

“CHWC’s impact aligns seamlessly with FCH’s mission to improve health, well-being and equity in our communities,” said Heaton. “Our longstanding partnership with CHWC reflects our dedication to supporting vital initiatives that address the root causes of health disparities.

As an example, she noted that “there is only one other primary care provider just for North Canaan. We need to have 20 just to meet the needs.”

Fund for the
Northwest Corner

A funding boost also came from BTCF, which oversees its Fund for the Northwest Corner, an endowed area fund which the foundation has built over the years to be a permanent resource for the communities in the Northwest Corner.

That organization, headed by its president, Peter Taylor, has contributed $155,000, including $40,000 from the Fund, to bolster the initiative by providing monetary support for physician recruitment and strategic planning to launch a development program which will be critical to expanding and sustaining the North Canaan facility.

Since 1987, BTCF has strengthened communities through philanthropy and leadership in northwest Litchfield County, Berkshire County, Massachusetts, and Columbia County and northeast Dutchess County in New York.

“While the first part of our name is ‘Berkshire,’ we were actually established in the Northwest Corner by local residents in Salisbury and Lakeville,” Taylor explained. “Our roots are strongest in the Northwest Corner.”

Taylor noted that over the years, the need for primary care “has just been growing.”

He said employers benefit when employees have easy access to their medical providers and other health care services, reducing the need for time off.

“It benefits not only their workforce, but the employee’s quality of life.” The same goes for seniors who live in rural areas, noted Taylor.

Taylor credited FCH’s Heaton and CHWC’s Borduas with “patience and persistence” in bringing the long-planned project to fruition.

“These two are really, together, just a dynamic partnership in terms of working with all the colleagues that are immediately surrounding them. It’s really an example of visionary leadership.”

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