A community health center’s plan to provide more services here could be put on hold for a year amid uncertainty over the fate of the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare.
Unity Care NW had hoped to start building a 23,500-square-foot clinic on Portal Way in June to serve an additional 9,500 residents in north Whatcom County.
Now, its leaders are looking to Washington, D.C., where Republicans are moving to repeal key pieces of the measure that has provided medical care access to millions of Americans. What lawmakers will replace those key points with, and when, remains unknown.
But Unity Care NW already spent $1 million on the project, the health care provider said.
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“We certainly don’t want to walk away from that investment,” said Desmond Skubi, Unity Care NW’s executive director. “Right now, we have no idea what will happen and that creates a level of uncertainty that will make it much harder to move ahead.”
The health care provider’s board of directors will decide in April or May whether to wait to build, but Skubi said the chances of breaking ground in June have “diminished significantly.”
The organization provides dental, behavioral health and pharmacy services, along with primary care on a sliding-fee scale to give services regardless of someone’s ability to pay. It has clinics in Bellingham, Ferndale and Point Roberts.
The $12 million project at 6060 Portal Way, near the Interstate 5 exit, would’ve been an expansion of the care it offers in Ferndale – providing more medical, behavioral health, pharmacy, laboratory and dental services.
Low-income adults in Whatcom County have said that dental care was one of the services they need most, and Unity Care NW has been among those working to provide more of it.
Skubi said it was more likely that Unity Care would build the Ferndale center in 2018, provided there was a clear path to being able to support the expanded services.
He said he was optimistic that a year would give Unity Care officials a much better idea of the lay of the land, allowing them to make a solid decision about proceeding with construction.
Unity Care NW, formerly Interfaith Community Health Center, had been expanding and adding services as part of Obamacare, which provided access to health care for more people. Community health centers, nationally, were a fundamental part of the federal health law.
Recipients of Medicaid, which helps pay for health care for the needy, are the biggest group served by Unity Care, although it does serve people on Medicare as well.