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New Year, new health clinic in the mid valley

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Whether it’s shopping for gifts or health insurance, December can feel overwhelming for lot of people.

But in 2019, Mountain Family Health Centers officially opens the doors of its Basalt Integrated Health Center. Development Director Garry Schalla sees it as an opportunity to serve a much larger patient base — up to 3,700 annually — but also as an opportunity for people to reinvest in themselves.

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“We offer a sliding fee scale, which makes it affordable for people to invest in wellness and health,” he said. “If you’re not invested in your own well being, if you don’t have skin in the game, you’re not going to get better. It’s not a handout.”

But, he continued, you don’t have to have insurance in order to receive care.

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“We take private insurance just as well as we take the uninsured; we’re a full clinic that way. Hopefully, people were able to get on the exchange, but even that’s not affordable, especially in a strong economy. People are actually getting raised out of being in these support programs. We’re hoping that this is going to offer another avenue: with a freestanding clinic, it’s more in tune with what people think of for a family practice or a private practice.”

That’s not to say that the new clinic is a direct competitor to existing practices, Schalla emphasized. Quite the opposite: the Basalt Integrative Health Center is a result of deep collaboration. Mountain Family Health Centers is one of six entities that comprise the Valley Health Alliance, along with Valley View and Aspen Valley Hospitals, Pitkin County, the City of Aspen and Aspen Skiing Company.

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“It was a concerted effort [of leadership] sitting down and making sure we could find solutions that worked for everybody,” he said. “There’s a lot of legalese, but in the end, you’re going to see a product that is truly a result of working ahead and working towards a healthier long term community.”

Pitkin County leases the 123 Emma Rd. building to Mountain Family Health — but Aspen Valley Hospital pays $150,000 of the valued $250,000 annual rent, and the county donates the remaining in-kind. The $3.4 million renovations to the space created the capacity for three full-time dental providers, as well as two behavioral health group rooms.

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That level of fully integrative care, including the mental health component, is particularly exciting for Pitkin County Commissioner Greg Poschman, who was an advocate for the Mind Springs Health hospital in  Grand Junction and has been a vocal proponent for mental health first aid training.

“[It] is a program anyone could take to recognize and communicate with someone who may be suicidal or perhaps they have a drug program. I’m pushing really hard to get that training,” he said, noting that some in- and after-school programs are already on the horizon. “Then along comes Garry Schalla, and yeah, I’m in. What’s been most exciting for me is it’s integrated healthcare: you go in for a toothache or just because you’re feeling crappy, but if they think there might be a need for behavioral health counseling, they’re there and they know how to do it. It’s like one-stop shopping.”

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It’s also proving to be a sort of incubator for ideas to continue increasing accessibility to healthcare in general. Though too soon to specify details, Schalla confirmed that the Mountain Family Health minds behind the new clinic are experimenting with different payment models that would likely hinge on a monthly membership fee structure.

“It’s in the test phase, and we’re not ready to roll it out valleywide yet,” he said. “It’s definitely not an insurance product, but it’s a way for, we hope, people to be able to invest in their total wellness — mental, physical and dental health — at a much more reasonable cost than they’re doing now.”

In the meantime, the health center is already booking appointments and has a tour and presentations slated for its Jan. 7 opening. Tours begin at 11:30 a.m. and the public is welcome to stay until about 2 p.m., Schalla noted. “We’ll definitely have pieces in that presentation that are strictly Spanish. We’re always very conscious of our Latino populations and being really culturally sensitive to our partners who are really part of that community.”

As for patients, “they should be reaching out now,” he said. “They should be calling our call center: 945-2840.

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