Bellingham resident Catherine Huhndorf was a happy patient with her primary-care physician, but when the doctor's office closed she had to shop around for a new health-care provider.
She tried several, but quickly grew tired of doctors who had 10 to 20 minutes, tops, to spend with her, or clinics where the doctor she saw was different every time she visited.
Then, two years ago, a church friend who was on the board of Interfaith Community Health Center suggested that she give Interfaith a try. Huhndorf, 65, said she's happy again because her doctor and other staff members at Interfaith take the time needed to understand her and her health.
"They're not looking at the clock," she said. "They know who I am and what my concerns are."
That focus on patients is one facet of Interfaith's recent recognition as a "Patient-Centered Medical Home" by the National Committee for Quality Assurance, a national group working to improve health care. Other facets include after-hours and online access for patients, a team-based approach to patient care, and patients' reduced use of hospitals because they're receiving care that helps prevent medical crises.
"This recognition is a testament to the hard work of our staff, who are dedicated to improving the quality of care we provide," said Desmond Skubi, Interfaith's executive director.
More than 10 percent of primary-care practices in the country have earned the recognition. Skubi said Interfaith is the first health practice in Whatcom County so honored, but other health providers in the county are pursing similar smart approaches to primary care. As important, Skubi said, is the sharing of good ideas by health providers in the county.
"This is an exciting community to be in," he said.
Interfaith is a nonprofit center that provides dental, behavioral health and pharmacy services, along with primary care. With clinics in Bellingham, Ferndale and Point Roberts, Interfaith has more than 14,000 patients, plus another 3,000 who are newly enrolled for health coverage.
Interfaith takes patients with private insurance coverage as well as those on public plans.
Interfaith's approach to primary care is varied and detailed, but has three clear goals: improve the quality of care, reduce costs and improve patient satisfaction.
A "team approach" to care is an important part. A patient receives medical attention from a physician or nurse practitioner, but also has access to a nurse, counselor and case manager, who work together to ensure the patient is up-to-date on appointments, shots, tests and whatever else is needed to improve their health, both physical and mental.
That coordinated approach is especially important for patients with chronic conditions, such as diabetes, because they're more likely to face major problems and expensive treatment if their condition isn't kept under control.
In another twist, Interfaith gives patients a report detailing their clinic visit, including medications prescribed, appointments, and, for example, details on a diet to improve their well-being.
"These kinds of things are really empowering for patients," said Shanon Hardie, Interfaith's chief operating officer. "Patients have grown to appreciate that."
Interfaith recently expanded its Bellingham clinic, spending more than $3 million to provide more room for patients and medical teams, and adding a pharmacy. The pharmacy provides quick, next-door service, and offers prescriptions on a sliding-fee scale based on ability to pay.
Interfaith also is expanding its dental programs for children and adults, and hopes to create an expanded dental clinic, a project that could take five years or longer.
"They have really fleshed out their services," Huhndorf said. "They're really doing a full-service thing."
INTERFAITH COMMUNITY HEALTH CENTER CLINICS
Bellingham: 220 Unity St. Call 360-676-6177.
Ferndale: 5616 Third Ave. Call 360-752-7410.
Point Roberts: 2030 Benson Road. Call 360-945-2580.