Community Health Care (CHC) is a Federally Qualified Health Center in Pierce County, Washington. It has provided health services to the underserved for over 44 years and is currently a health care home for 31,000 patients annually through five medical and two dental clinics. Of those, 59% have incomes below poverty, 81% are low income, 19% are uninsured, 56% represent racial and ethnic minority groups, and 37% are children.
Tacoma’s Hilltop community, where CHC’s clinic is located, is the most densely populated low income area of the county and the highest risk area in the state for infants and children. It was once a premier retail and shopping area of the city but had fallen into disrepair. Most retail had disappeared, and its future seemed uncertain. For some years, CHC wanted to expand or replace its small and aging clinic in the area. The issue became more pressing with the enactment of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, when CHC projected that its client base could more than double in the next few years. CHC received a grant from the federal government for $12 million to undertake the construction of a more adequate facility to respond to this need in the Hilltop district. CHC also believed that the prospect of a major outpatient health care facility being built in the area would bolster the area’s prospects for economic redevelopment.
It became apparent that CHC’s federal grant would only be the start of the total financing needed to build a facility that could adequately respond to the need in this area. In addition, the timing of CHC’s grant coincided with a major downturn in the economy. This made capital campaigns difficult and made it doubtful that CHC could raise the $26.68 million that the final design of such a new clinic required.
CHC learned about New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC) projects in the immediate area and contacted prior participants. CHC launched into the task of securing NMTC financing and partnered with Low Income Investment Fund, National Development Council and US Bank. All three groups met onsite and worked together to complete the deal which included $27.5 million in NMTCs, $7 million in equity investments and additional bridge financing.
The project is now under construction and scheduled to open in October 2013. It will provide medical and dental clinics, a pharmacy, an imaging center and an Urgent Care Clinic. It will be able to serve over 17,000 patients per year, up from 5,000 patients at the current Hilltop clinic, and will draw 50,000 patient visits annually to the area, stimulating economic activity and creating additional retail incentive for development. The project has provided 95 construction jobs to date and is expected to add 30 to 40 additional workers by the end of the project. The fully operational center will provide more than 130 permanent full-time positions.
In addition, the new clinic will be a teaching health center and will have residency programs for physicians, dentists, nurse practitioners, physician’s assistants and pharmacists. Pierce County is currently lacking over 100 primary care providers so these programs will be critical to bringing new providers to the area.
The NMTC program enabled CHC to build a clinic to meet the needs of the community. Without the economic assistance NMTCs provided, CHC would likely have had to build a smaller and less adequate facility with fewer programs. Even before completion, the project is making an impact on the community. The Pierce County Economic Council has named it one of the top 10 economic stimulus projects of the year, and the regional office of the Environmental Protection Agency listed it as one of the most successful brownfield programs of the year.
When completed, the clinic will be the first major construction in the Hilltop Community in over 30 years and have a significant impact on the area.
The project spurred the City of Tacoma and Pierce County to prepare the way for retail and business expansion. Sound Transit, the local transportation agency, has approved the extension of the light rail system from downtown to the community. And, the Hilltop clinic will provide the only Urgent Care facility in the area giving care regardless of insurance coverage, alleviating the burden on local emergency rooms. The community expects this project to be a catalyst for improving the health of residents and local economic development.