Opinion

Whatcom View: New name for Unity Care NW, but continued committment to health

Interfaith mobile dental program provides checkups and fluoride treatments for more than 1,100 kids a year. The non-profit health agency has changed its name to Unity Care NW.
Interfaith mobile dental program provides checkups and fluoride treatments for more than 1,100 kids a year. The non-profit health agency has changed its name to Unity Care NW. The Bellingham Herald

Thirty years ago, a coalition of community leaders, health professionals, volunteers, faith-based organizations and concerned citizens joined together to found Interfaith Community Health Center. They did so in response to a concern about the growing unmet needs for health care in our community. With an initial focus on providing triage and referral services for low-income people with no access to basic health care, Interfaith Community Health Center grew over the years in size and scope. In 2001, Interfaith Community Health Center became an independent non-profit organization, continuing to work closely with its partners, but forging its own path.

Our mission has always remained the same: to provide affordable, high-quality health care to residents of Whatcom County.

Over the past three decades, our name — Interfaith Community Health Center — has meant a lot to us. It has spoken directly to our historic partnership with our friends at the Interfaith Coalition who, along with the Opportunity Council, the Medical Society, Chuckanut Health Foundation, PeaceHealth and many other foundations and donors, have been wonderful partners to us over the years. Thanks to their support, we have grown as an organization.

Unity is also a nod to our original clinic on Unity Street in Bellingham.

Today, the Interfaith Coalition focuses primarily on housing. We focus on health. Healthcare and housing are intertwined. Both are necessary for a vibrant community. Each organization has a unique mission. It makes sense that each organization have a unique name to reflect their unique mission. And that’s why we have decided to change our name.

Changing a name isn’t something you do lightly. We wanted a name that both honored our past and spoke to our future, a name that embodied our core values of compassion, caring, and inclusivity.

We are now Unity Care NW.

Unity means “the state of being united or joined as a whole.” This describes perfectly our relationship with our patients and with our community. It speaks to our holistic, interconnected model of service provision and caring for the whole person. Unity is also a nod to our original clinic on Unity Street in Bellingham. So Unity Care NW brings all of these elements together.

From our humble beginnings as a provider of medical care, our services have grown over the years. In 1983, we added a dental clinic. Three years later, we started offering behavioral health services to our patients. In 2013, we added a pharmacy serving our patients at our Bellingham clinic. What was once a small clinic on Unity Street has grown into an organization that provides care to over 17,500 Whatcom county residents, with three locations in Bellingham, Ferndale and Point Roberts.

The concern for meeting the unmet health needs of Whatcom County that inspired our founders so many years ago still remains. That’s why we are expanding our Bellingham clinic in early 2016 to provide dental care to more adults and additional space for our behavioral health services. We plan to open a new Ferndale clinic in 2017 or 2018 as well, which will significantly increase our medical, dental, and behavioral health capacity at that location, as well as making pharmacy services available to our north county patients.

The prospect of soon being able to provide dental care to an additional 5,000 low-income adults in our community who desperately need it is gratifying. Dental care is ranked as the most needed but least available service for low-income adult populations in Whatcom County. Because dental disease tends to be chronic and cumulative, the lack of dental services for low-income adults has resulted in a large and growing disease burden. With this new dental clinic, we will be able to prevent intergenerational tooth problems by treating more parents and pregnant moms, and we can help prevent costly dental emergencies.

This is an exciting time for us an organization and for the community as a whole. We are honored to continue serving this community as Unity Care NW.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Des Skubi is executive director of Unity Care NW, formerly Interfaith Community Health Center. For more information online, go to unitycarenw.org.

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