The practice sacrificed office space to accommodate new patient rooms when costs for the renovation project grew.
LEE,Mass. — Community Health Programs Inc. celebrated the completion of its long awaited expansion of Lee Family Practice.
The nearly $1.1 million project was funded by CHP and by a federal Health Resources and Services Administration grant.
The health center program was approved for the grant seven years ago but the project was delayed because of the costs, scope negotiations and the pandemic. When the project was first established, it cost more than the grant amount so the scope had to be adjusted, Chief Financial Officer Tom Walbridge said.
Although the size of the project had to be reduced, it was still able to meet the determined needs, including the number of exam rooms and consult spaces, and the number of potential new patients, within the smaller footprint, he said.
The expansion will allow the practice to serve its patients more efficiently and to increase the number of primary-care patients the health center sees by 1,500 over the next two to three years.
The number of exam rooms were expanded from nine to 13 and the number of consult rooms from one to four.
Within the next couple of months, the practice will increase the number of doctors to four and the number of nurse practitioners to six. It also added a space for a community health worker office.
"We've gotten an influx of new patients who want to come here. It's a really great group of individuals who care about the community and our patients so much. I think our patients can tell that we enjoy working together. It's a good place to work if anyone's looking for a job," senior practice manager Miriam Gluck said.
"And we have fun together. We take care of not just the patients but each other and so it's a really special place and I feel that our patients can see that when they come in."
With the services the practice offers ranging from psychotherapy to nutrition, it was clear that more space was needed, said Dr. Melanie Levitan, one of the practice's founders.
Although a little skeptical at first about reducing the size of the offices to make room for exam rooms, the end result brought collaboration between the staff, she said.
"Instead of all these private offices, we have more room for patients to be seen, we have more room for collaborative care," Levitan said. "… the way we're working it out is the practitioner is working closely with the nurse or medical assistant who's working with them and it's much more convenient than either sending lots of messages on the medical record or chasing the person down."
Multiple speakers said this expansion is needed and will have an important impact on health-care access in the area.
"It has been really difficult to try and find primary care in the Berkshires, in Western Mass," said Casey Pease, constituent service director for state Sen. Paul Mark. "And it's the responsibility of the state and federal government and partners to really figure out how we can expand access, and it is really exciting."
The added capacity this renovation provides will allow the center to take on more patients which is really important, CEO Bethany Kieley said.
"There are new residents to the Berkshires all the time, there are retiring providers. So, we need to really continue to increase our ability to serve people," she said.
"I love that we have made the investment to honor our patients with a really beautiful up-to-date facility and our staff, as well, to be sure that they have really good workspaces and a really pleasant environment. So it's a win on every level."
A huge difference will not be made until the country eliminates private health plans and replaces it with universal health care, like other democracies in the world, but these renovations will definitely aid in improving accessibility to health care, said practice co-founder Dr. Michael Kaplan.
"I can't say we're gonna make huge changes, but I think we'll make accessibility a little better. We already have more clinicians," he said. "It's very hard to recruit new clinicians in the current environment but if we get more doctors and nurse practitioners, we should be able to serve the community."
Kaplan has been working in the health-care industry for 43 years and intends on retiring next year. He said he hopes his legacy continues to live on in the new building that is "awfully nice for people to work in."
The organization broke ground on the project in July 2022 and completed the renovations this past July.
"We had the right group of people to be able to undertake a yearlong project of construction and still support the patients in the community," Gluck said. "We worked through almost the entirety of the year of construction."
During the two "small stretches where the building had to be closed," the Lee Family Practice team was distributed across the entire CHP organization, Gluck said.
"We were welcomed by all of the other sites. We had staff as far north as North Adams and as far south as Fairview [Hospital in Great Barrington]," Gluck said.
For patrons who were unable to travel to other locations, one of the organization's Mobile Health Units was parked in the practice's parking lot.
The mobile unit was always staffed with one or two providers so that travel didn't restrict patients ability to get care.
"All of our patients still were able to access us and get the care that they needed when the office was closed, which was a total of six weeks over the yearlong project," Gluck said.
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