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Aaron Brock, the executive director of the Missoula Food Bank, stands Monday afternoon in what will be a new satellite clinic of Partnership Health Care.

Part of the Missoula Food Bank & Community Center is set to be transformed into a Partnership Health Center clinic, thanks to nearly $434,000 from the Missoula Redevelopment Agency.

The 1,661-square-foot room, on the second floor of the Food Bank’s Wyoming Street building, is currently used as what Executive Director Aaron Brock calls a “flex space.” It was sparsely furnished Monday afternoon, but the renovation will transform it into two medical and dental exam rooms each, a behavioral health office, a reception area, a business office and storage space, all to serve an expected 800 to 1,000 people per year.

“My hope is that by this coming spring, this is an operational space, and that's really fun and exciting,” Brock said.

This effort began about a year ago, when Laurie Francis, Partnership Health Center’s executive director, toured the Food Bank. Partnership operates six medical clinics in western Montana and serves 16,000 people per year, Francis estimated.

She and Brock “realized how similar our missions were, and how committed we were to (the) health and well-being of Missoulians, and that’s how we saw the opportunity to work together,” she remembered. The Food Bank surveyed its clients, and the results, Brock said, “really showed that many folks walking through our doors don't have access to regular health care, or feel they don't have access to regular health care, they've skipped health care, and then really (there was) a desire for across-the-board services, so medical, behavioral, and also dental.”

Partnership projected adding medical care at the Food Bank would cost about $400,000 — a difficult investment, Francis said, without the guarantee of a reliable revenue stream in that location. And so they approached the Missoula Redevelopment Agency, which last Wednesday committed $433,840 in TIF funds, or tax increment finance money, to the project.

Under the arrangement, the Food Bank will lease the converted space to the city for $1 per year, and the city will, in turn, lease it to Partnership Health for $1 per year. After five years, the city will have the option of purchasing the space from the Food Bank. While the contract gives Partnership the option of leaving if things don’t work out, Francis told the Missoulian that “we anticipate a really great partnership.”

She predicts it will accommodate 800 to 1,000 patients, or about 16,000 visits, per year, at a cost of $500,000. They’ll be able to bill about $360,000 of that to Medicare, Medicaid or private insurance, while Partnership will have to subsidize the remainder. It will offer physical and mental health care initially. Francis said they’ll have to seek additional funding sources to add dental.

The details of the patient experience, Brock said, are still being worked out. “There’ll be signage so somebody walking through our doors will see that there is a facility operated by Partnership Health Center on site. And then every person who walks through our doors spends a few moments with an interviewer downstairs, so it's an opportunity for a very warm hand off for us, especially for the first year or two, to be actively saying, 'Hey, you know, this new thing exists on our site, might it be helpful?'"

Partnership’s work, he continued, “really jibes with our work as a community center, trying to not just be a Food Bank downstairs, but to meet community needs in a lot of different ways, and to reduce the stigma by having people walking through our doors all the time for lots of different things."

The Food Bank and the University of Montana’s SpectrUM Discovery Area already operate EmPower Place, a children’s learning and activity center that opened in 2017 with support from the Missoula Redevelopment Agency and the Institute of Museum and Library Services. Last month, the Association of Science and Technology Centers presented that initiative with an award for collaborative partnership.

Now that the Food Bank’s “flex space” is set to become a clinic, Brock said “we'll have to be a little more creative in the scheduling of our other meeting rooms ... and there might be some things we don't get to do moving forward. The exchange for that is medical care on site for a population that's under served, and that seems like an easy trade."

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