Partnership Health to open clinic in Missoula Food Bank; city approves funding

Partnership Health Center will open a new clinic in the Missoula Food Bank under an agreement approved by the Missoula Redevelopment Agency this week. The agreement is similar to a 2017 arrangement made between the city and SpectrUM, which also occupies the Food Bank. (Missoula Current file photo)

In a push to expand access to health care, the Missoula Redevelopment Agency this week approved the use of tax increment to build out empty space at the Missoula Food Bank for a new satellite clinic of Partnership Health Care.

The board approved roughly $433,000 in tax increment to finish more than 1,600 square feet of space on the second floor of the Food Bank. The agreement culminates roughly eight months of planning and conversations between the two organizations and the city.

“Partnership is engaging in cutting-edge, meet-people-where-they-are health-care programming,” said Missoula Mayor John Engen. “This is a really elegant way for us, as municipal government and through MRA, to participate in expanding access to health care.”

Partnership, a nonprofit medical provider, saw roughly 16,000 unique patients last year at its seven locations. Of those 16,000 people, 3,000 were children under the age of 18.

Of those children, 513 were under the age of 3.

“What we know about health outcomes, improved jobs and a greater life, is that intervening at the 0 to 3 age group is absolutely game changing for generations,” said Laurie Francis, executive director at Partnership. “And there are a lot of kids who use the Food Bank.”

Partnership is looking to increase the population it reaches across the community. As it stands, its penetration rate is roughly 32 percent.

Providing services at the Food Bank and its diverse population could help grow that number. The facility provided food to more than 26,000 unique individuals at least once last year across a variety of incomes.

“When Aaron (Brock) took us on a tour of his facility and we started to share our mission and our views, we realized that we belonged in shared spaces,” Francis said. “We believe we belong upstairs.”

Brock, executive director of the Food Bank, said a recent survey asked customers about their access to medical care, what kinds of medical care they needed, and their perception of Partnership Health Center.

The majority of those who responded said they had skipped the medical care they felt they needed. Most also expressed a need for easily accessed services, from child care to medical and behavioral health care.

“More than 50 percent of the folks who responded said they’ve skipped medical care or didn’t have the access they needed to medical care for any number of reasons,” Brock said. “We’re seeing a lot of families with kids. Having that population have access to adequate health care is just a benefit for our whole community.”

Under the agreement approved this week, the city will lease the clinic space from the Food Bank until the organization’s New Market Tax Credits expire. When they do, some time around 2024, the city has the option of buying the space.

The City Council approved a similar arrangement with the Food Bank in 2017. The city agreed to lease roughly 1,200 square feet in the Food Bank and finish the space using TIF funding for SpectrUM, which provides nutritional education for children and families.

When the New Market Tax Credits expire, the city will purchase the SpectrUM space at fair market value, less its TIF investment. At that point, the city will continue to lease the space either to spectrUM or to another nonprofit that meets the Food Bank’s mission.

The same arrangement will hold true for Partnership.

“We’ve already begun some integration,” said Francis. “We’ve had our behavioral healthcare manager there at the Food Bank, helping (Brock) and his staff think about how to work with folks who are not getting the mental health services or substance abuse services they need.”

Francis said Partnership plans to offer medical, behavioral health and dental services at the Food Bank clinic, though it doesn’t yet have the funding it needs to provide the latter service.