Country Doctor Community Health Centers executive director Raleigh Watts says the nonprofit’s new Capitol Hill dental clinic is set to open on time and on budget, taking current clients first in an effort to maximize its suite of health-care services.
“We are going to clean teeth the first week of January, come hell or high water,” Watts said during a tour of the 19th Avenue site on Monday, Sept. 17.
Watts inherited the project, located next door to Country Doctor’s Capitol Hill community clinic, 500 19th Ave., from former director Linda McVeigh — the first leadership change in 41 years. He had served on the CDCHC board for two decades, and provided consultant work previously for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, World Health Organization, UNICEF and the Center for Disease Control.
Demolition of the old Betty Lee Manor building started in early November 2017, after Country Doctor spent two years working out its plans for a four-story dental clinic and apartment building through the East Design Review Board.
The $7 million project has all its government funding secured, Watts said, and applications are out to several foundations. Bank financing will cover a portion of the construction cost, as will reserves. The capital campaign has reached about 93 percent of its funding goal, and the hope is to narrow that gap during Country Doctor’s annual fundraising dinner on Saturday, Oct. 20, at the Museum of History & Industry (MOHAI). Tickets are $135 per person and available for purchase at countrydoctor.org/dinner.
The Country Doctor Community Clinic was already cramped for space before Betty Lee Manor came down. Demolition pushed auxiliary services and administrative offices over to the clinic.
“We had to stuff everybody in,” said Watts, who has been working from home since coming aboard.
The ground floor needed to be designed like a storefront, Watts said, and tenants will bank to the left to get to their apartments while patients keep to the right. There will be six rooms on the ground floor for non-medical services, such as the WIC program and maternity and diabetes education, Watts said.
The clinic will have eight dental chairs, and Country Doctor plans to serve 100 patients per day. There will also be a panorama X-ray room. Watts said Country Doctor is still determining the scope of the dental work it will be able to provide, but clients will need referrals for things like dentures or braces.
People who have avoided or been unable to visit a dentist for years will require multiple visits to catch up, Watts said, and Country Doctor will first prioritize its medical patients, particularly people with compromised immune systems and pregnant women.
“People who it really helps to have a healthy mouth to fight off infection,” Watts said.
Many private dentists don’t take Medicaid payments, Watts said, and the University of Washington’s School of Dentistry and Neighborcare Health, which leases space at Country Doctor’s Carolyn Downs Family Medical Center on East Yesler, can only help so many patients.
The east half of the second floor will be dedicated for social services, triage nurses, behavioral health, an HIV team and nurse case managers, while the west end will include administrative officers and a staff conference room. Sarah Huffbauer, a family medicine doctor who joined Monday’s tour, said staff has been meeting at the Miller Community Center due to a lack of space currently.
Once the dental clinic building is completed, which Watts anticipates will be in mid-December, the additional space will also be a boon for the community clinic next door.
Country Doctor plans to use its freed up space to add an additional exam room, with enough space for staff to collaborate when working with a patient.
“What we really want to do is be able to provide team-based care,” Watts said.
The community clinic’s pharmacy also lacks the capacity to carry all of the medications its patients need, Watts said, meaning half of them have to get their prescriptions filled at Walgreens or Bartell's.
The top-two floors of the dental clinic building will include eight market-rate apartments, with an even mix of one-bedrooms and studios, which will provide a consistent revenue stream for Country Doctor. Watts said Marathon Properties will manage the apartments, and is helping Country Doctor determine the rental rates that would be most reasonable.
Country Doctor had discussed making the apartments available to low-income residents, but discussions with affordable housing developers led the nonprofit to realize it wouldn’t be feasible from an operations standpoint, Watts said. The hope is to start advertising the units soon.
“People will have to rent them sight unseen,” he said.
The building’s elevator will be double-sided, so clinic staff can enter on one side while residents enter through the other. Key cards will be also be used to keep the clinic side of the building secured.
Country Doctor is constructing the building to meet LEED standards, but isn’t seeking certification. That includes adding features like a rainwater retention deck, solar panels on roof and a staff showering facility to encourage people to bike to work.
Learn more about Country Doctor’s services at countrydoctor.org.