Desert Sage Health Centers (DSHC) broke ground on Nov. 16 for a new 30,000-square-foot health center in Mountain Home that will include medical, dental, behavioral health, administrative services and a dedicated space for DSHC’s “car clinic” model.
Officials stated the new facility is intended to help to grow capacity and enhance services for the expanding community and health care needs in Elmore County. It is also planned to have an expanded number of exam and procedure rooms, increased office space for behavioral health services, upgraded dental operatories and welcoming spaces. The tentative completion date is scheduled for January 2024.
“The health center currently serves 8,000 patients (annually at three health center site locations) with expected annual growth of 5%, pacing with the area’s projected population growth,” explained Mary Ferguson, CEO. “At the end of five years, it expects to serve more than 10,000 patients. As Boise continues to push growth out toward Mountain Home, specifically young families seeking more affordable housing options, this number may be conservative.”
To serve the population, she added, DSHC is anticipating adding two additional primary care providers, at least two behavioral health providers, an additional dentist and approximately eight additional support staff members.
In addition to its Mountain Home location, DSHC also provides service in Glenns Ferry and Grandview. The current Mountain Home site opened in April 1998. In 2004, a larger facility was built, allowing DSHC to expand primary care services, adding dental and expanded behavioral health access services, according to DSHC’s website. The organization completed an expansion and renovation in 2014 at the Mountain Home facility.
Paty Hernandez, medical clinic manager who has been with DSCH since 1995, stated: “It’s amazing how much we’ve grown since our first little building in Mountain Home, when we didn’t know how many patients might come through our doors. Now we are busting at the seams, which is such a great problem to have. I’m excited that we are going to have a beautiful new building to serve more families as our communities grow, and I’m so proud of all the staff members who work so hard every day to make this possible.”
The current facility at 2280 American Legion Blvd. will be sold, but won’t have its new occupant until DSHC’s health care services are fully transitioned to the new site.
The project is being funded through dedicated money set aside by the health center. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, DSHC was prepared to divert funds dedicated for its future building to keeping its staff employed, believing “a new building without staff has no purpose,” as Ferguson described.
“There were no layoffs,” she said. “In response to this commitment by Desert Sage, our teams were instrumental in not only keeping the health center operating during the pandemic, but they took team collaboration and the ability to deliver quality patient care to new and effective levels.”
The health center was able to preserve the building fund for the project.
“When COVID started, we had no idea there would eventually be rescue funding available,” Ferguson said, adding that like many businesses, the health center benefitted from the Payroll Protection Program and other relief funds.
“However, the most significant impact was the team’s ability to reengineer how it would safely deliver health care services when it was still unknown how the virus was being spread,” Ferguson said. “The federal funding along with being able to provide our regular services in a slightly different way preserved both revenue and the building fund.”
Following a request for qualifications process, the construction is being overseen by general contractor Andersen Construction. The architect is Hummel Architects, which, DSHC pointed out, has been involved in projects such as the Idaho Capitol building and the St. Luke’s Children Pavilion in Boise.
“Desert Sage feels positive about the collaboration that has occurred during the planning process,” Ferguson said.
“The most innovative use of space is the drive-thru clinic,” she added. “We’re frequently asked how we learned about the concept and why it doesn’t already exist elsewhere. We agree, it’s a unique concept and we expect it will be a model many other clinics will follow.”
Board Chair Terry Geis described in a statement that the drive-thru clinic will allow some patients to drive into a temperature-controlled bay and be seen while remaining in their car.
“This will be a significant benefit for elderly with mobility issues who only need a quick check by their doctor. Parents with sick kids can remain in the car while the medical provider checks their ears and throats, avoiding having to pull already cranky kids out of the car, and preventing exposure to others,” Geis stated. “We’re not sure why, but we’ve not seen anything like what we’re planning. The concept seems rather obvious.”
“We typically don’t like to be first but like to sit back and learn from others,” Ferguson said. “In this case, others might be learning from us and we’re more than willing to share our lessons learned. Whether it’s providing health care directly or by showing others what we do, serving others is what we believe in.”