When Kyra Sjoboen and her husband relocated from Tacoma to Toutle last year, she never felt an urgent need to find a new doctor until a kidney infection landed her in the hospital in November.
To make matters more difficult, 55-year-old Sjoboen had no health insurance.
The experience was a wake-up call for Sjoboen that she really needed a doctor, and she found affordable health care at the Cowlitz Family Health Center’s new Kelso branch, which opened Monday at 300 Oak St.
“They were able to see me right away,” Sjoboen said as she sat on the examining table following her physical exam. “Right now, we don’t have insurance because of finances, and my husband is on Social Security disability. We were just hoping that some of the costs will go down so we can at least get some basic health care.”
The new $500,000 clinic will provide many of the same medical services that have been available at four other Family Health locations, including primary and preventative care, urgent care and women’s health. The new location will also provide homeless outreach services and behavioral health care. Patients will pay through Medicaid and Medicare or a sliding-fee scale based on income.
On its first day of operation, only a handful of patients trickled into the clinic, which features 12 exam rooms and has a staff of 9 to 13 employees. As more residents discover the new location, Family Health Chief Executive Dian Cooper said she hopes it will relieve the patient overflow at the Longview clinic, which can no longer expand.
Cooper said that the United States Census estimates 16 percent in the Longview area are uninsured, but she perceives the numbers to be higher.
“As the economy has not done so well here, there’s been more need for our services,” Cooper said. “We see close to 22,000 patients a year.”
The increase in patients has caused a backlog of scheduled appointments and an even longer wait time in the reception areas if you’re a walk-in patient at the Longview Health Center.
“We have a lot of services in Longview, but it’s very busy,” said Rachel Allen, a nurse practitioner who has been with Family Health Center for eight months. “Some people wait for patients to no-show, so we have people waiting for hours.”
Playing the waiting game is just as frustrating for the nurses and doctors who strive to care for every patient who walks in the building, said Tina Pond, primary care administrator for the Kelso clinic.
“We would like to see every person as soon as they need to be seen,” Pond said.
Family Health Center is also expected to see as many as 2,000 new patients in the Kelso clinic’s first year, Cooper said.
Cooper said she is also hoping to staff employees for behavioral health services and eventually provide dental care in the Kelso location, which was chosen for its central location.
“The building was in pretty good shape and close to bus stops, close to train stations and close to the work force office,” Cooper said. “It was pretty much the perfect location for the folks that live in South Kelso.”
It is certainly more convenient for Kelso resident John Thompson, who had to arrange transportation for his visit to the Longview clinic on May 1 for a checkup and prescription renewal.
“It was hard. I had to call and arrange transportation and get ready almost an hour before my appointment,” Thompson, 44, said. He still had to wait for a ride back home.
“I live on North Pacfic, so it’s not that far away. I can walk there,” Thompson said of the Kelso clinic.