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Clinic taking steps toward financial health

Joanna Richards

A clinic in Watertown that serves many needy children is taking steps toward better financial health after nearly closing abruptly in October.

The North Country Family Health Center – formerly the North Country Children’s Clinic – unveiled a plan Monday to help it stay in business long-term. The plan includes common-sense measures like consolidating management jobs, leaving vacant positions unfilled, and taking advantage of quality improvement incentive programs to gain higher reimbursement rates from Medicaid. Five workers are also being laid off.

Krista Kittle is a spokeswoman for Samaritan Medical Center, which has been overseeing the clinic on a temporary basis since its financial crisis struck. She says if all goes as planned, it will have a break-even budget by the end of 2014.

“That also includes a very positive cash flow, which really has been the issue at this point, why some of the accounts payable have gotten behind, why some of our vendors are delinquent,” Kittle said.

Many aspects of the Family Health Center’s day-to-day operations are being tightened up to increase revenue and reduce expenses, she said. One example is the patient appointment schedule.

“So, for example, if we have an average of a 10 percent no-show rate, what we would do is work into the schedule a 10 percent increase in the number of appointments that we have that day,” Kittle said.

Samaritan Medical Center has agreed to extend its oversight of the clinic at least through mid-May.

North Country Family Health Center has secured over $130,000 from local and state sources, and has another $100,000 funding request pending. That money will help it implement its recovery plan.

The clinic serves all patients regardless of ability to pay. Its last annual report, in 2012, says its pediatrics program served almost 3,000 patients that year, about half of them from poor families below the federal poverty line.