NOHN helps to meet healthcare needs, CEO says

Network established in 2015 with federally qualified center

PORT ANGELES — Community health centers such as the North Olympic Healthcare Network were created as part of the civil rights movement to serve high-need areas with limited access to healthcare and a shortage of healthcare professionals, NOHN CEO Dr. Michael Maxwell said.

Maxwell spoke during the weekly Coffee with Colleen segment, hosted Wednesday by Colleen McAleer, the executive director of the Clallam County Economic Development Council.

Maxwell said NOHN was established in 2015 when Family Medicine Port Angeles transitioned from a 40-year private primary care physician group into a non-profit federally qualified community health center.

He said the transition was made because that model was not meeting community needs due to a national shortage of primary care physicians, a lot of physician retirements and more people getting access to healthcare through the Affordable Care Act.

So the business applied for a new access grant for underserved communities through the Health Resources and Services Administration and was one of 164 successful recipients out of 2,500 applicants.

It was the last one in Washington state in 2014, becoming fully operational on Sept. 30, 2015.

“It’s a compelling story,” Maxwell said. “It was about our ability to meet the area’s healthcare needs. Our goal was improve access to quality healthcare.”

Over nine years, NOHN has recruited 15 physicians and 10 nurse practitioners compared with five physicians and three nurse practitioners before that, he said.

It has added 12,000 patients since becoming a health center, with the smallest being those with commercial health insurance, Maxwell said.

Nobody is turned away, insured or not, he said.

New dental care access for children and adults on Medicaid added in 2019 means they no longer have to go to the emergency room as they had in the past, Maxwell said.

“In a nutshell, patient-directed non-profit ‘health centers’ started in 1964 as part of the civil rights movement, predicated on healthcare being a basic human right, to serve underserved areas,” he said.

“The first Community Health Centers (originally called Neighborhood Health Centers) were funded as a demonstration project under the Federal Office of Economic Opportunity, the lead federal agency in President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty,” according to the National Association of Community Health Centers.

Health centers provide comprehensive and integrated health services, which we take for granted now, Maxwell said.

“Health centers in the ’60s were the first ones to have this idea,” he said.

The first two were in inner-city Boston and rural Mississippi, and now there’s now 1,400 nationwide, including 27 in Washington state, that collectively serve 31 million people, including 9 million kids and 500,000 veterans, Maxwell said.

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Reporter Brian Gawley can be reached by email at brian.gawley@peninsulanews.us.

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