September 7, 2018

PCDC’s First Financing in Washington Brings Needed Dental and Behavioral Care

Photo courtesy: Unity Care Northwest

The Primary Care Development Corporation (PCDC) today announced the completion of its first financing in Washington State: a $15.2 million project that answers an urgent need for dental and behavioral health care.

The financing enables Unity Care Northwest (UCNW), a federally qualified health center serving patients in Whatcom County, to address northwest Washington’s dentist shortage that has left 45,000 people unable to access dental services. Nearly one in five uninsured individuals in the area are not served by a health center at all.

Among the features of UCNW’s new 23,500-square-foot facility, to be completed in June 2019:

  • 12 exam rooms, 12 dental operatories, and a pharmacy
  • Six additional dental providers
  • Five specialty behavioral health rooms, two large conference rooms, and additional rooms for future expansion
  • Lab services and medication-assisted therapy for alcohol and substance use disorders
The new UCNW Ferndale facility

The building, which will accommodate over 9,500 patients at capacity, replaces and expands UCNW’s existing leased site in Ferndale.

PCDC provided $9 million in New Markets Tax Credits (NMTC), federal tax credits designed to stimulate investment in low-income communities.

“The award of the New Markets Tax Credits is a key component in making UCNW’s vision a reality for thousands in north Whatcom County,” said Desmond Skubi, UCNW Executive Director. “Because of this support, we were able to break ground this June. UCNW is dedicated to the principle that health care is for everyone and seeks to increase the years of healthy life in the community and people it serves.”

Photo courtesy: Unity Care Northwest

Dental access has been consistently rated among the highest needs in Whatcom County, a region designated as a mental and dental health professional shortage area (HPSA). In UCNW’s area there are 1,440 patients to every dentist, compared to 1,320 nationally, and 1,270 statewide.

Additionally, fewer than half of the county’s dental providers (43.8 percent) treat Medicaid patients, despite most (87 percent) of UCNW’s patient population living at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

Substance use also poses an ongoing crisis: Whatcom County ranks third of 39 counties in negative effects from heroin abuse and sixth of 39 counties in negative effects from prescription drug use. Local deaths attributed to opiates surged 23 percent between 2004 and 2013.

To address these and other challenges, UCNW offers an integrated approach to primary care, providing medical, dental, and behavioral health services on a sliding-fee scale. The obstacle has been space: With the existing site now at full capacity, patients must wait 43 days for dental hygiene and 21 days for restorative dental, on average.

Despite the physical limitations, UCNW provided nearly 91,739 visits to 20,787 Whatcom County residents in 2017 across its five locations in Bellingham, Ferndale, and Point Roberts.

Photo courtesy: Unity Care Northwest

In addition to providing services regardless of patients’ ability to pay, UCNW offers a sliding fee scale that discounts charges according to household size and income.

“Unity Care Northwest is well established and understands the communities it serves, developing solutions to provide integrated care and services that are most needed,” said Anne Dyjak, PCDC Managing Director.

“A new facility will help expand care to thousands more patients in Whatcom County,” Dyjak said. “It epitomizes what community health centers do best: provide high-quality services to underserved communities and reduce barriers to primary care. We are delighted that PCDC financing is helping Unity Care Northwest deliver on this mission.”