NOT JUST MEDICAL CARE: Community Health Partners 20 years into enriching communities

Samantha Hill

In the heart of downtown Livingston, Community Health Partners has seen multiple expansions since opening almost 20 years ago. Its purpose is not only to serve people through medical services but also through dental clinics, pharmacies and education.

CHP began in Park County in 1997 as a one-room facility in the former Livingston Memorial Hospital, CEO Lander Cooney said Tuesday. From the beginning the organization wanted to expand, and a couple years later, it was able to grow into its current facility on Main Street offering all the services it does today. From there, the organization expanded into Bozeman, Belgrade and West Yellowstone.

Cooney said the purpose of the growth is to reach different needs. With multiple facilities comes different accommodations for the public. The West Yellowstone facility will be open six days a week to meet the high demand for Yellowstone Park visitors needing care. Meanwhile, in

Bozeman, which has a larger population of Spanish speakers than other communities, CHP has more Spanish-speaking staff available to help clients.

What makes Livingston’s services unique is that they are all housed in one facility.

“It is cool in Livingston that people can access everything they need in the same building,” Cooney said.

Of the more than 50 workers at the Livingston location, a few remain that have been at the location since its inception.

Rie Hargraves,  a teacher in the learning center, has been with the group since the beginning, and other than the changes she has seen to the building, she has also seen a change in the community.

Hargraves said when the health education programs began there was a very high teen pregnancy rate, but through counseling and sexual education, that number has dropped significantly.

She also said she has noticed less stigma for mental health care, including the community addressing issues of depression and suicide.

The Learning Partners facility is also open to many who are looking to complete certifications and their high school equivalency. On Tuesday afternoon, one student was studying geometry for the last test before getting her GED, and another student was working on obtaining a ServSafe certification for his restaurant job.

Chris Kostman has been working with the educators for a few weeks to get his certification. The helpers at the center have also helped him identify different kinds of work he may be interested in.

“I found out that I might work well with computers,” Kostman said.

Although CHP organization has expanded to help various people’s needs, the organization is still aware of some of the inadequacies it faces and continues to address them.

In Gardiner and in Shields Valley, it can be difficult for people to drive dozens of miles for health care, so the organization has set up a network of home health providers, Cooney said.

“Some of our care doesn’t stay in our walls,” she said.

CHP was designed to meet the needs of the community, which include sliding scale fees and taking in clients regardless of their ability to pay. Many patients, despite changes to the Medicaid system, are either uninsured or live below the poverty level, she said.

Cooney said it could become difficult to promote programs because the operating budget relies heavily on federal grant money, which could face cuts in the future. CHP’s budget is $6.7 million, 38 percent of which is supported by federal grants. Another 48 percent of the organizations funds come from patient care. A smaller amount is derived from donations and state grants to support the 12,000 patients in the region last year.

Although some of the changes to the budget could pose future challenges, Cooney is hopeful because lawmakers across the county are supportive of community health clinics.

“We feel health centers have a lot of support nationally,” she said.