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Interfaith gets $1 million grant for Bellingham expansion

Medical Director Dr. Barbara Clue visits with patient Catherine Huhndorf at the Interfaith Community Health Center in Bellingham in 2014. Interfaith is expanding in Bellingham and plans to build a new clinic in Ferndale.
Medical Director Dr. Barbara Clue visits with patient Catherine Huhndorf at the Interfaith Community Health Center in Bellingham in 2014. Interfaith is expanding in Bellingham and plans to build a new clinic in Ferndale. The Bellingham Herald

Interfaith Community Health Center will use a $1 million federal grant to expand its behavioral health program and dental services for adults in Bellingham.

The health care provider is renovating its leased second-floor space at 1616 Cornwall Ave. in Bellingham to provide more of the much-needed services.

The dollars were part of $15 million in Affordable Care Act grants to support health centers and expand primary care services in Washington state.

Interfaith also received $275,448 to increase access to services as part of this round of funding, according to an announcement from U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.

“We’re very pleased that we were funded,” said Desmond Skubi, Interfaith’s executive director, noting that the organization still was raising money for the project.

The grant moves Interfaith closer to paying for the $2.2 million expansion.

“We’re $300,000 off,” Skubi said.

Interfaith provides dental, behavioral health and pharmacy services, along with primary care. It has clinics in Bellingham, Ferndale and Point Roberts.

When done in late April, the adult dental clinic on Cornwall will have 12 chairs, providing more of a service that low-income adults in Whatcom County say they need most but are least able to get.

Interfaith hopes to be able to fully fundraise the Bellingham expansion, which would allow the center to hold onto its budget reserve and debt capacity for a major project in Ferndale — building a 20,000-square-foot center on its Portal Way property. The 4.1 acres has wetlands on it so it’s not fully buildable, according to Skubi.

The project, with a rough overall price tag of $8 million, will allow Interfaith to expand in Ferndale and serve the northern part of the county.

The Ferndale clinic now has two medical providers and two dental providers working out of a 3,400-square-foot space.

“They have to be very friendly people because it’s really tight,” Skubi said. “They have to like each other to work there.”

Across the street from the 3rd Avenue clinic is Interfaith’s behavioral health services. Building the new space on Portal Way will allow Interfaith to put those services under one roof and to expand.

For example, more people will be able to get dental care because the number of dental chairs will increase from four to 12.

“That’s the next major step in our efforts to expand dental service in the county,” Skubi said.

And the larger space will allow Interfaith to go from four medical exam rooms in Ferndale to 15.

The Portal Way clinic also will house a lab, pharmacy, offices and meeting rooms.

Interfaith would like to open the new clinic in Ferndale by summer 2017, but Skubi said that timeline might be “overly ambitious” for what will be its largest project. That’s because Interfaith is still working on the financing.

“It’s circulating around in our mind, but we don’t have a plan for that,” he said.

Interfaith has been busy 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 Affordable Care Act,” he said.

The belief was that for the Affordable Care Act to work, Skubi said, health care centers needed to expand.

“We’re in the middle of trying to accomplish what we were charged to do,” he said.

Reach Kie Relyea at 360-715-2234 or kie.relyea@bellinghamherald.com.

TO HELP

Interfaith Community Health Center needs to raise another $300,000 for its renovation project at 1616 Cornwall Ave. in Bellingham.

To contribute, go to interfaithchc.org and select “donate” in the upper right corner.

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