Amid uncertainty over attempts to repeal ACA, Ferndale health center takes a step

Unity Care NW has proposed a 23,500-square-foot clinic on Portal Way in Ferndale. The center would serve northern Whatcom County.
Unity Care NW has proposed a 23,500-square-foot clinic on Portal Way in Ferndale. The center would serve northern Whatcom County. Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

A $750,000 grant is giving Unity Care NW a big start on reaching its fundraising goal for a new clinic on Portal Way even as its executive director keeps an eye on the latest effort to dismantle the Affordable Care Act.

The money from the federal Community Development Block Grant was a “nice chunk of the funding required to launch the project,” said Desmond Skubi, executive director of Unity Care NW.

Combined with contributions from other donors and grants, the federal dollars will bring the total raised so far to a little more than $1 million.

The nonprofit health organization is giving itself a year to come up with the roughly $2 million remaining in the fundraising campaign for what will be called the North Whatcom Health Center.

“This is really nice big jump up toward that $3 million goal,” Skubi said.

The 23,500-square-foot clinic is expected to serve an additional 9,500 residents in north Whatcom County.

The community health center 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 be an expansion of the care it already offers in Ferndale – providing more medical, behavioral health, pharmacy, laboratory and dental services.

Unity Care originally wanted to start construction this past June but held off because of uncertainty caused by Republican efforts to repeal and replace the ACA, commonly known as Obamacare.

That uncertainty hasn’t gone away even as the latest effort, the Graham-Cassidy bill, seemed all but doomed unless enough votes could be mustered in the coming days.

Moving forward, Senate Republicans are under pressure to pass repeal legislation by Sept. 30 or lose their ability to do so with a simple majority of 51 votes as allowed by special budget rules.

If repeal efforts are successful, it would “raise the bar significantly” on Unity Care NW moving forward with its project in Ferndale, Skubi said.

However, Skubi said he “was very skeptical” this third attempt to pass repeal legislation in the Senate would succeed.

Unity Care NW 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.

For now, Skubi hopes construction on the center will start in June 2018 with a possible opening June 2019.

Kie Relyea: 360-715-2234, @kierelyea

Learn more

Information about Unity Care NW is online at unitycarenw.org. Donations to the fundraising campaign to build its North Whatcom Health Center also can be found there.