Delivery of Care

Blackstone Valley expands with new satellite facility

Community health center purchases new building to handle growing patient demand

Photo by Richard Asinof

Raymond Lavoie, executive director of Blackstone Valley Community Health Care, in front of the new building purchased by the community health center at 1145 Main Street in Pawtucket to serve as a satellite facility to accommodate new patient demand.

Photo by Richard Asinof

The program from the groundbreaking on July 18, 2011, at the 39 East St. facility for Blackstone Valley Community Health Care, on a sweltering summer day. The program was turned into a fan as an innovative touch, reflective of the community health center's innovative approaches to health care.

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By Richard Asinof
Posted 1/5/15
The expansion of facilities by Blackstone Valley Community Health Care in Pawtucket reinforces the community health center’s successful model of cost-effective, affordable, accessible health care.
How can the success of Blackstone Valley be replicated not just in other community health centers, but in other delivery models, with its sophisticated integration of health IT at the point of care? What lessons are applicable to the development of the State Innovation Model, particularly in Blackstone Valley’s nimble health information systems? How can the shared savings that are created by innovative practices at the provider level be returned to the community health center, and not just be swallowed up by the state or the health insurer?
As Gov.-elect Raimondo considers how Rhode Island can become a national leader in controlling the state’s Medicaid costs, it might be worth it for her to take a tour of Blackstone Valley Community Health Care, so that she can learn first-hand about the community health center’s innovative, cost-effective approach to delivering high quality health care. And, for that matter, she might invite her new nominees, Stefan Pryor at CommerceRI, Anya Rader Wallack at HealthSourceRI, and Elizabeth Roberts, at EOHHS, to accompany her, to see how good policy and planning can translate into effective action.

PAWTUCKET – When Blackstone Valley Community Health Care broke ground on July 18, 2011, for its new $6.7 million facility at 39 East St., the community health center was serving more than 11,500 patients – a 16 percent increase since the Great Recession had begun in 2008, Raymond Lavoie, the center’s executive director, told the crowd of more than 100 that had gathered on a sweltering summer day.

“That’s more than a full-house at McCoy Stadium,” Lavoie had said on that day, as he introduced the dignitaries assembled at the groundbreaking ceremony, including Sens. Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse, Rep. David Cicilline, Lt. Gov. Elizabeth H. Roberts, Jane Hayward, president and CEO of the R.I. Health Center Association, and Dr. Pablo Rodriguez, CEO of Women’s Care.

“Together, we’ll be changing lives by offering residents the gift of good health,” Lavoie had said, saying that the new facility would allow the community health center to expand to serve more than 15,000 patients.

At the groundbreaking, Whitehouse called the new facility a “win, win, win, win,” because Blackstone Valley’s system of delivering health care as a community-based, patient-centered medical home, with full integration of electronic health records, was “a new model of caring – better than even what the wealthy now receive.”

Blackstone Valley’s model of care, Whitehouse continued, was the solution to “the domestic battle of our generation. What people are saying about the [burden of the ever-increasing] costs of Medicare and Medicaid gets solved with this model. Your delegation has your back as you continue to grow this model,” Whitehouse said.

At the grand opening of the new facility on Oct. 22, 2012, Roberts, who was recently nominated to served as the new secretary of the R.I. Executive Office of Health and Human Services by Gov.-elect Gina Raimondo, praised the health care delivery services model used by Blackstone, saying: “This is how you change the health of a community.”

Indeed, as a result of Blackstone Valley’s sophisticated use of integrating health IT at the point of delivering care, supported by its own health information exchange, the community health center has bent the medical cost curve by about $12 million over the last four years.

Blackstone Valley’s model of care received rave reviews from students in Brown University’s Master in Executive Healthcare Leadership program, who toured the facility in December. [See link to ConvergenceRI story below.]

And, since the new facility opened in 2012, Blackstone Valley’s patient base has grown rapidly, exceeding 15,000, according to Lavoie.

“We’re bursting at the seams,” Lavoie told ConvergenceRI in a recent interview. “Our new building at 39 East St. that opened in 2012 had roughly twice the exam room capacity of our previous building. And, we’ve already outgrown that.”

Building bought, renovations planned for new facility
To meet the increasing demand for services, Blackstone Valley recently purchased the building at 1145 Main St. in Pawtucket for $1.4 million, with plans to turn the three-story structure into a satellite facility.

ConvergenceRI recently toured the new building with Lavoie, located near the Providence border, roughly equidistant between Gregg’s Restaurant and Hope Artiste Village.

The increasing demand for services, Lavoie explained, has been driven primarily by Medicaid expansion that came with the Affordable Care Act.

“We are also much more visible with our location in downtown Pawtucket,” he said. “We’ve hit 15,000 distinct individual users this year, 1,800 more than last year, and last year was a record-setting year.”

In terms of Blackstone Valley’s footprint, Lavoie said the community health center attracts patients from about 40 zip codes, including Providence. “This section of Pawtucket,” he said, looking out on Main Street, “is not well served. There are an awful lot of people in this area that need to be served.”

Part of the problem, he continued, is that parking in downtown Pawtucket is so limited, which is an issue. The new space offers its own off-street parking, as well as parking on the next street over.

“We need to spread out, we can’t be so concentrated. This represents an ideal location,” Lavoie said. “It’s on two major bus lines [serving] Providence and Pawtucket.”

Opening in the fall
If all goes well, the renovations will be completed and the new satellite facility will open in September of 2015. Blackstone Valley had applied for a New Access Point Grant from the federal Health Resources Services Administration, a division of Health and Human Services.

“If we get that award on May 1, we have to operational by 120 days from May 1,” Lavoie explained, saying that Blackstone Valley hoped to have the plans for the redesign on the renovations completed by the end of January.

In terms of renovations, the previous tenants had worked in the medical business, so that many of the existing walls can be kept, but the exam rooms will all need new sinks and cabinets, according to Lavoie. And, of course, all the “soft costs” of new computers, wired back to the data system in Pawtucket.

In total, the new satellite facility will offer roughly an additional 12,000 square feet for exam room space, doubling the exam room space available at the 39 East St. facility, according to Lavoie.

In addition, the new location offered the potential for new collaborative programs in nutrition and in fitness, Lavoie said.

The gift of good health
Lavoie characterized the expansion of Blackstone Valley’s facilities as a breath of fresh air for Rhode Island, amidst its budget challenges around health care costs and Medicaid spending.

“Lots of folks now have health insurance cards as a result of the Affordable Care Act,” he said. “But that’s half the solution. The other half of the solution is having a place to get care and use that insurance card.”

In that context, Lavoie continued, “It’s very exciting for us. We’re in a growth mode.” It should also be exciting for state government, he added. “We’re cost leaders in Rhode Island. This should be a breath of fresh air, with the systems that we’ve put in place and how we’re able to save costs and improve health outcomes.”

Lavoie said he looked forward to meeting the new governor and to having her attend the opening of the new facility, if it can be arranged. “It’s good news. It is very good news.”

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