12th Avenue Square project ready to dig in

by Sebastian Garrett-Singh

A conceptual image of 12th Avenue Square Park presented in 2011 (Image: Seattle Parks and Recreation)

A conceptual image of 12th Avenue Square Park presented in 2011 (Image: Seattle Parks and Recreation)

Back in June 2011, CHS posted design meeting plans for a 7,322 square-foot gravel lot on E James Court. It will soon be 12th Avenue Square Park. Now, with funding and a permit in-hand the Department of Parks and Recreations is looking to begin construction by late-spring/early summer and build upon the 564 12th Ave empty lot next to Ba Bar restaurant.

“The acquisition of the space was a community-initiated project from the 2000 Pro Parks Levy Opportunity Fund Project,” said Kerri Stoops of Seattle Parks. The Department of Neighborhoods passed the property to the parks department in 2008 who have acquired a steady flow of funds to get the project rolling that will include a woonerf to run “along James Ct spanning between the 12th Ave Park to the south and the new Seattle University and Seneca group development to the north.”

You may be wondering what a woonerf is. Here’s your answer:

A woonerf (Dutch plural: woonerven) in the Netherlands and Flanders is a street where pedestrians and cyclists have priority over motorists. The techniques of shared spaces, traffic calming, and low speed limits are intended to improve pedestrian, bicycle, and automobile safety.

Before construction can start on the 12th Avenue parcel the City has to find the right contractor.

“The project is now permitted and will go to bid.  If there is an acceptable bid, we will most likely, start construction late spring, early summer 2014,” Stoops tells CHS. Plans for the square were initially on-hold in 2008, but after bringing in $500,000 for the woonerf project from a 2008 parks levy and hurdling the public vetting process in 2011 the path is clear for construction.

The Seattle Parks Foundation is also chipping in $70,000 with an additional $490,000 coming from the 2000 Pro Parks Levy.

When it’s all done it will look more Westlake than Cal Anderson Park:

Designed by Hewitt Architects, the group will stay on as consultants for the woonerf project, according to a parks department description. “The park project and the woonerf project will go through design development, construction documents and construction simultaneously,” the parks website adds.

In addition to the pedestrian promenade the park will include artistic touches created by Ellen Sollod, who collaborated with Hewitt Architects on the project. “The artist has been selected by the community,” said Stoops. Sollod also serves on the Seattle Design Commission and Public Arts Advisory Committee.

Stoops said the construction schedule is slated to take 100 days.

Hip hop artist Draze releases music video about Central District gentrification

Seattle hip hop artist Draze released a music video for his single “The Hood Ain’t the Same” earlier this month. The video shows landmarks and community members throughout the Central District and other south end communities.

“We could have just shot a bunch of buildings but it is the people who give these structures life. We wanted to highlight some of the real people touching the real community at a grass roots level.” says Draze. “As artists I think we have a responsibility to tell our truth to the people, regardless to how uncomfortable it may be. My city is alive but my community is dying, maybe this is my effort or Eulogy to get someone to care.” says Draze.

Here’s the full video from YouTube:

Corporate housing fund, incentive zoning floated at affordable housing forum

Anti-gentrification protestors block the a Microsoft shuttle (Image via Tides of Flame)
Anti-gentrification protestors block the a Microsoft shuttle (Image via Tides of Flame)

Following a year in which Seattle saw the largest increases in rent costs in the nation, the Seattle City Council is now taking more visibly public aim at the issue of affordable housing after a City Hall forum held last week to examine strategies to make Seattle an affordable city once more.

“Right now, there’s a lot of job growth happening, which is great, but people who aren’t participating in Amazon-level paychecks are feeling the squeeze in this city, and that’s not a good thing,” said council member Mike O’Brien.

But in some cities those corporations are apparently helping to create more affordable housing. One tactic discussed at the forum is to solicit help from local corporations to create a housing fund that would operate similarly to the city’s current housing levy — a strategy employed by cities like San Francisco and Minneapolis.

Recently, the influence that businesses like Microsoft and Amazon have in gentrifying popular neighborhoods like Capitol Hill has been under increased scrutiny following a protest of Microsoft’s Connector bus on Bellevue and Pine. Protests like this have become increasingly common in San Francisco, with anti-gentrification activists claiming that the numerous private commuting services utilized by tech companies leaves less incentive to improve upon mass transit options.

But according to O’Brien, big-name corporations like Microsoft stand to benefit by helping to make the city more accessible to people of all-income levels by broadening their pool of potential employees.

“It’s acknowledging that the future success of these companies is in part dependent upon them being able to recruit the type of talent they need,” said O’Brien. “Companies are trying to recruit a lot of talent, and at the scale that they’re trying to do that, affordability issues in places like Silicon Valley is a serious constraint and obstacle to their ongoing success. So companies there recognize that they have a financial interest in making housing is affordable, and they’re going to put their money where their mouth is.”

The forum, which saw over 200 people in attendance, drew together numerous experts on housing from across the country in order to compare how other cities have tackled the issue of affordable housing while also presenting information showing how mixed-income communities are of greater benefit to the city as a whole. Additionally, the forum also served as a means of scrutinizing the success of existing measures in Seattle in order to determine what steps must be taken to help increase the number of affordable units across the city.

“The forum was about recognizing that people are coming from different angles and we all have some personal needs to meet that are pretty powerful and important,” O’Brien said. “To work through this as a community, we wanted to get on the same page around some shared values, and also get some shared knowledge around the data to see what we know and we don’t know, and where people’s priorities are.”

At the forefront of the forum’s efforts to increase affordable housing was a review of Seattle’s Incentive Zoning program. The program, which is currently only used in areas like South Lake Union that have been up-zoned, allows developers to increase the height of their buildings if low-income housing units are also constructed. If the developers choose to opt out of providing low-cost housing on-site while still using the incentive program, developers can instead pay a fee to the city.

12th Avenue Arts, which recently broke ground, will have 80+ units of affordable housing

12th Avenue Arts, which recently broke ground, will have 80+ units of affordable housing.

Results of a Council led study of the program were presented to the forum, showing that in 12 years an estimated 400-750 low-cost units have been created under the program. Approximately 40 percent of developers had chosen to take advantage of the incentive program while 60 percent chose not to build the higher height to avoid build affordable housing.

These results garnered a mixed reaction from the forum’s attendants, some of whom viewed it as a sign of success while others criticized that the majority of developers were choosing not to take advantage of the incentive program. While the low number of units has been partially attributed to the current restriction of the program to up-zoned areas rather than for the entire city, the analysts examining the program’s results suggest that other factors may be at work.

“It’s possible that the bonus is worth less than the incentive that affordable housing provides and that it just doesn’t make financial sense,” said O’Brien. “It could be that at the time a developer started a project we were still coming out of the recession, they could only afford to put 200 units online, and that project could only work for them. So over the next few months we need to get some better detail on why people aren’t accessing it. Is the program broken, or are there a whole host of other reasons for it isn’t working?”

Aside from program suggestions like these, the housing experts from other cities also offered an outside perspective on one of the central issues surrounding affordable housing in Seattle and on Capitol Hill in particular: the ongoing debate over increasing density.

“It’s often framed as a trade-off; that if you ask for affordable housing, it’s going to put a limit on density, and if you focus on density instead of affordable housing, you can get a lot more density.” O’Brien said “But folks from around the country said that this is a unique conversation to Seattle. They say that developers in their communities are not nervous about density, and the way that developers convince the public to accept density is to aggressively bring on affordable housing. I think that we’ve done a good job of convincing people in Seattle that density is a good idea, but that’s had the unintended consequence of making people think that we don’t have to do affordable housing. I worry that dichotomy may start to undermine some of our goals, and I would love to see the two working hand-in-hand.”

Annex brings Black Like Us premiere to Capitol Hill

February brings a new play to Annex Theatre, co-produced by Brownbox Theatre, Black Like Us by Rachel Atkins. Annex says that while its scheduling during Black History Month is intentional, it is “more than race… of the sweet, complex, and exasperating relationships that exist between sisters…The history of the Central District and the Civil rights movement in this city are woven into the narrative.”

Atkins

Atkins

11th and Pike’s Annex is no stranger to new plays, many of its presentations deliberately chosen from local playwriting submissions in a hotly contested annual company debate. Nor is Rachel Atkins a stranger to playwriting, with a long history as a writer and teacher and 20 years as a script writer for Living Voices, historically-based multimedia one-person theatrical events.

Rachel reports that as many as 3 million people have seen her work presented around the country, but most people in Seattle aren’t even aware of the (local) company. Living Voices focuses on social justice issues of many sorts: civil rights, women’s suffrage, Japanese American internment, the Holocaust (Anne Frank), immigration. All their scripts are written by Atkins and then integrated with video or archive photos, and the actor interacts with voices from the past.

“This play is about families and sisters,” Atkins said. “I wrote the play so it could be double-cast but (director) Jose Amador decided we would keep individual roles for four African American women instead of two, so there would be a maximum opportunity for more actors of color, since there are so few on stage, often.”

Atkins said this work is also purely female. “The relationships they have with each other have nothing to do with men,” she said. “I’ve gotten good feedback about that. ‘Hey, none of their problems have to do with if they’re going to get some man or keep some man.’”

Atkins said she turned to her own background to write characters of a different race. “My parents are Jewish but my step-dad, who raised me was black,” she said. “I grew up in the ‘70s when a mixed-race family was not nearly as common as now. I grew up aware of those issues and questions about race and it was a complicated situation for my mom and step-dad.”

1399205_10152170356569324_558269314_o“The play is from 1950s until today, so characters in the ‘50s speak differently than contemporary characters,” Atkins said of the language she used. “Part of this is about the assumptions we make about people and these characters needed to sound like themselves, whatever their skin color. Also, the play is set in Seattle and there is a regional sound to it.”

“I had a shorter version of this play run last year and black audience members actually talked to the characters,” she said. “I don’t think any white audience members did that. Tyrone (Brown, artistic director of Brownbox Theatre), my director, did mention that might happen because black audience members might have something to say about what was happening on stage.”

American folk tales

Also playing until February 26th on Tuesdays and Wednesdays at Annex is Story and Song. Bret Fetzer performs two American folk tales with backing a small group of singers a la the movie O Brother Where Art Thou?

For more information, go to www.annextheatre.org or call 206-728-0933.

A nickel here, a dime there — City services look for guidance as affordability concerns mount

City Light billboard, 1968 (Image: Item 78729, City Light Photographic Negatives (Record Series 1204-01), Seattle Municipal Archives via Flickr)

City Light billboard, 1968 (Image: Item 78729, City Light Photographic Negatives (Record Series 1204-01), Seattle Municipal Archives via Flickr)

With rates for utility services set to increase, Seattle Public Utilities and Seattle City Light are now seeking public input to help better balance any rise for a city already beset with a rapidly growing cost of living. The City of Seattle is holding a series of public forums designed to inform residents on what utility services SPU currently provides. Last night, the tour visited Garfield Community Center.

According to SPU’s Andy Ryan, the hope is to let the people decide if maintaining their current levels of service is worth the added financial burden.

“We’re going to show people everything we can about what the utility does now, and people will tell us exactly what they think after they’ve seen the whole process,” said Ryan, SPU’s public information officer. “If they have specific ideas, by all means, suggest them. But if people don’t know what we do now, it doesn’t help.”

Forecasts for the increase comes as part of SPU’s work on a six-year business plan that will provide greater transparency for city residents with a baseline estimate of costs. SPU’s results found that unless certain services are reduced, the utility rates for Seattle households would see a 30% increase by 2020, rising approximately $16 per year from $325 in 2015 to $422.

For renters, many buildings simply pass the costs of water and sewer onto tenants in the lease though newer buildings typically put electric bills in the hands of their residents. Meanwhile, “third party billing” regulation in the city protects tenants from monkey business in older buildings where landlords have centralized utility costs that are then doled out for payment by tenants.

SPU says that the main causes behind the rate hike come primarily from inflation, which constitutes 53% of the estimated increase, with the remaining amount being attributed to debt repayment, contracts, and taxes.

As part of his initiative to address Seattle affordability, Mayor Ed Murray has begun a parallel effort to double the number of households using the city’s discount utility program from 14,000 households to approximately 28,000 over the next four years. Public Health-Seattle & King County estimates that up to 65,000 households earning under 70% of the state’s median income may be eligible for the discount already, which would allow discounts of 50 to 60% from their utility bills.

“I have said all along that, while a living wage is an important piece to addressing the overall affordability crisis we face in this city, it alone is not enough,” said Murray. “Wages are growing too slowly, while costs are growing too quickly. As we address the issue of wages, we also need to address these cost issues – including costs for City-provided services. And as we consider difficult but occasionally necessary service rate increases, we must recommit to minimizing the impacts on those who can least afford them.”

City Council member Kshama Sawant, who was elected last November on a campaign that championed the working class, has responded to the possibility of rate hikes for Seattle utilities by saying that the financial burden of the increase should fall on large corporations rather than the city’s sometimes struggling residents. Sawant, who chairs the council’s Energy Committee, said that international energy rates would be compared to those of Seattle residents while also examining the issues of executive pay and working conditions at City Light.

In 2010 when City Light rates were jacked up 14%, the Council voted to create a “rate stabilization account” for the utility. When the balance of the account drops below $90 million — something that looks increasingly likely given rising costs of procuring electricity and supporting the utility — a 1.5% surcharge is triggered. A deeper drop in the account would mean an additional surcharge.

Meanwhile, other efforts at belt tightening and optimization are underway. One example for SPU is a proposal to switch the garbage pick-up schedule in the city to every other week.

SPU’s Ryan hopes that input from the community will help lead to solutions that will satisfy the needs of all community members, but in order to do so, the public will first need to make their opinions heard.

“Our customer’s opinions on our rates are at the very heart of our process,” Ryan said. “We need their input if we are going to make decisions about the things we have control over, like frequency of garbage collections or the speed at which we fix pipes. It’s important for people to realize that this is a public utility. It’s their investments, and it’s really important that people have a say in how we manage those investments. And if people believe in participatory democracy, this is the chance to come in and make a difference.”

You can also provide feedback to the city via this online survey.

Last community meeting before work begins on $46 million+ overhaul of 23rd Ave

2014_0115_Greenways_map_v401You party animal. We know what you want to do with your Friday night — help plan the glorious, multi-modal future of the 23rd Ave corridor. Details on a Friday night community meeting to talk about the changes are below. CHS wrote about the 23rd Ave greenway opportunity here. The cool kids in the Central District, Montlake and eastern Capitol Hill call it the Central Area Neighborhood Greenway.

Here’s part of what’s coming to make 23rd a fully functioning major artery in a growing part of the city: “After reviewing data and soliciting community input, SDOT will redesign 23rd Avenue between E John Street and Rainier Avenue S to three lanes – two lanes in each direction with a center-turn lane.” Add the greenway’s “mix of signage, pavement markings, speed bumps, roundabouts and other traffic-calming features” and you’re talking about some big opportunities for positive change.

The full $46 million+ project is planned to have construction wrapping up before the end of 2017.

Take 20 minutes for 23rd Avenue

Maribel-at-mtg-DSC_7204-RESIZEWe’re excited about our plans for the 23rd Avenue corridor – and we’ve taken our show on the road! This week we’ve been at the Douglass-Truth Library and SOAR having great conversations with Central Area neighbors.

We hope you can join us at our final session tomorrow, January 31 at the Miller Park Community Center from 4:30 to 7:00 p.m.

Check out our project website for more info. See you real soon!

About our work in the 23rd corridor area

Beginning in fall 2014, the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) plans to begin constructing corridor improvements on 23rd Avenue as well as implementing a neighborhood greenway in the area. Investing in these important projects means improving safety for drivers, pedestrians, and bike riders – plus faster and more reliable transit in the corridor.

The condition of 23rd Avenue creates a poor environment for the many vehicles, transit users, bike riders, and pedestrians who use the corridor today. Since early 2013, SDOT has been reviewing existing traffic data in the area and asking for community input about how improvements to the 23rd Avenue corridor could balance the needs of all users.

On streets with fewer than 25,000 vehicles per day, redesigning a street from four lanes to three can have many safety and mobility benefits, including:

  • Reducing collisions
  • Reducing speeding
  • Allowing vehicles to turn without blocking traffic
  • Managing drivers cutting in and out of lanes
  • Creating space for wider sidewalks
  • Making streets easier to cross, and
  • Make it easier for larger vehicles (e.g. buses) to travel

After reviewing data and soliciting community input, SDOT will redesign 23rd Avenue between E John Street and Rainier Avenue S to three lanes – two lanes in each direction with a center-turn lane.

More info

www.seattle.gov/transportation/23rd_ave.htm

www.seattle.gov/transportation/centralgreenway.htm.

23rdAveCorridor@seattle.gov

(206) 684-7963 (Maribel Cruz, Outreach Lead)

21st and Cherry intersection to get pedestrian-friendly upgrades

photoResidents around the area of 21st and Cherry received a notice from the city earlier in January announcing planned upgrades to make the intersection safer for pedestrians. An endearing hand drawn map accompanied the notice.

The notice says, “The project consists of a curb extension on the southwest corner and a new wheelchair ramp on the northwest corner. This project was requested by the community through the Neighborhood Park and Street Fund, a city-administered program that works with communities to prioritize and build neighborhood projects.”

The project’s aims are to “reduce pedestrian crossing distance of E Cherry Street, improve pedestrian visibility, and improve accessibility for people with mobility challenges by installing new curb ramps.”

Cherry Street is notoriously difficult for pedestrians to cross — and even more so if you’re in a wheelchair. Motorists rarely obey Seattle laws requiring cars to grant pedestrians the right of way in most cases, even when there is no marked crosswalk. And they tend to move at high speeds as they come down the hill towards 21st Avenue.

The notice did not say when construction would begin, only that it would last two to three weeks and is scheduled for 2014. The city will place temporary “no parking” signs in the area three days before construction.

 

 

MLK 2014 around Central District includes Mt. Zion’s 40th celebration, Fight for 15 march starting at Garfield

2013's Mt. Zion celebration

2013′s Mt. Zion celebration

2014′s celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday stretches across the weekend with and event Thursday at the Paramount, Friday’s 40th annual celebration at E Madison’s Mt. Zion and a new spirit rallying people at Garfield High School on Monday under the banner of a $15 minimum wage in Seattle. Details below.

  • THURSDAY — King County CelebrationKing County to host annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration at Paramount Theater

    Human Rights Hero Larry Gossett to present celebration’s keynote address

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Noon – 1 p.m.

Paramount Theater

911 Pine St, Seattle

  • FRIDAY — 40th Annual MLK Celebration at Mt. Zion

Screen Shot 2014-01-15 at 4.54.43 PM

Six Words: National ‘Race Card’ Project launches in Seattle at Martin Luther King Jr. Community Celebration at Mt. Zion

Michele Norris, host and special correspondent for National Public Radio (NPR), will be keynote speaker at the 40th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Community Celebration presented by the Seattle Community Colleges. Three years ago, Norris started a national conversation with The Race Card Project, which invites participants to share their thoughts, experiences and observations about race in one sentence with only six words. Thousands of interesting and thoughtful sentences from around the world are posted on The Race Card Project website.

Broadcast journalist Tonya Mosley, who recently completed the Black in Seattle series for KUOW, will emcee the interactive program and a reception to follow, where students and the community are invited to engage in an informal moderated conversation inspired by what they heard during the program.

Area leaders will present their six-word Race Cards throughout the program. Students will provide a dramatic reading of Race Cards, submitted by people in our community at www.seattlecolleges.edu/mlk.

Award-winning Greater Works Chorale directed by DaNell Daymon will perform dynamic gospel music throughout. 

WHEN

Friday, Jan. 17, 2014

12 – 1:30 pm (Program)

1:30 – 2:30 (Reception & Discussion)

WHERE

Mt. Zion Baptist Church

1634 19th Ave, Seattle 98122 

BACKGROUND

The 40th anniversary event is recognized as one of the area’s oldest and most significant events commemorating the life of Dr. King and reinforcing Dr. King’s message of tolerance and inclusion.

A capacity audience of close to 1,000 community members, civic and political leaders and students of all ages, is anticipated.

The event builds on the RACE exhibit at the Pacific Science Center, which explores the biology, history and culture of race and has drawn people from throughout the region for information and presentations.

 

  • FRIDAY — Giddens School MLK Jr. March for Peach and Justice

The annual Giddens School MLK March for Peace and Justice will be held Friday, January 17, 2014th at 10am. Organized by Giddens School in conjunction with the Seattle Girls School and Lake Washington Girls Middle School. Students have spent the past several weeks learning about the civil rights movement and have created their own protest and peace signs. They will carry their signs and sing traditional protest songs as they march from Giddens School to the Langston Hughes Cultural Arts Center.

 

DATE AND TIME:  Friday, February 17th at 10am.

 

ROUTE: March begins at Giddens School, 620 20th Avenue S. Students will walk north on 20th and then walk through Pratt Park. March will end at the Langston Hughes Cultural Arts Center at 104 17th Ave S, Seattle, WA 98144

 

CONTACT:   Amy Bresslour, Development Director

206.324.4847 x33

abresslour@giddensschool.org

giddensschool.org

  • MONDAY — Fight for 15 MLK Day

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Family of student suspended for Garfield hazing sues district

An October hazing incident including a reportedly drunken party in the Arboretum busted up by police that lead to suspensions has pushed the parents of one Garfield High School student targeted for discipline.

The Seattle PI has details on the lawsuit filed against Seattle Public Schools:

One of 10 students suspended following the Sept. 27 incident has since sued the district. Through that now-federal lawsuit, the boy and his parents fault Seattle Public Schools for the 11-day suspension.

While that student’s parents described the incident as light-hearted “froshing,” Garfield administrators said in prior years saw a dangerously intoxicated 14-year-old student left unconscious at a Seattle park. Efforts to crack down on the decades-old practice, though, appear to have been unsuccessful so far.

Country Doctor opens new after-hours clinic as an affordable emergency room alternative

Story by Jacob Olson

IMG_6652Country Doctor has provided affordable health care on Capitol Hill for more than 40 years. Now it is finishing 2013 with a new attribute sure to be valued by area residents: convenience. But, in the rapidly changing economic landscape of the Affordable Care Act, the new clinic is about more than making it easier for the community to seek urgent care.

Opened quietly in early December, Country Doctor Community Health Clinic’s new after-hours Clinic — located next door the the Emergency Room at Swedish Medical Center – Cherry Hill Campus at 16th and Cherry and made possible by a partnership between CDCHC and the hospital — is already proving to be a valuable resource as an alternative to visiting the ER for a non-emergency or to waiting days to get in at a regular clinic where they may or may not be an established patient. But if the nonprofit walk-in urgent care clinic wants to keep its doors open over the long run, it will need to see a significant increase in its patient load before a $200,000 Swedish Foundation grant to cover the clinic’s operation costs for the first three months runs out

IMG_6649

“This is something that wasn’t going to get much traction [before] because it could potentially have a negative impact on the revenue of the ER docs,” CDCHC executive director Linda McVeigh said. “But you know the world has changed, and reimbursements for visits to the emergency room that aren’t true emergencies are decreasing rapidly, just because of all the Affordable Care Act,” she said.

“You go in the ER with a cold and you’re a Medicaid patient..it’s going to cost the state, what, five-hundred dollars? You come to us, it’s going to cost the state at the most maybe one-hundred dollars, so there’s that excess cost related to ER visits that’s a big incentive to drive down.”

Richard Kovar, CDCHC’s medical director, said that with two nurse practitioners, two medical assistants, and two front desk personnel on hand at any time, the after-hours Clinic is currently staffed to accommodate about 25 to 30 patients on weekdays when it is open from 6pm to 10pm, and even more patients on Saturdays and Sundays when it is open from noon to 10pm. That’s a potential total of about 250 to 300 patients per week. That is also about the number of patients it will take for the clinic to be self-sufficient, McVeigh said.

In keeping with Country Doctor’s mission, the after-hours Clinic will seek to provide “high-quality, caring, culturally appropriate” health care to everybody, regardless of insurance status or ability to pay. However, while Country Doctor currently serves a patient population that is about 53% uninsured at its federally-subsidized primary healthcare clinics—the Country Doctor Community Clinic on Capitol Hill at 19th and Republican, and the Carolyn Downs Family Medical Center in the Central Area, at 21st and Yesler—McVeigh said she hopes that the portion of uninsured patients seen at the unsubsidized after-hours Clinic will be around 35%.

Country Doctor is banking on the prediction that a significantly higher number of patients it sees at the after-hours Clinic will be on Medicaid, especially through Washington State’s Apple Health program, after the national Affordable Care Act takes full effect on January 1st, and that other patients might also be newly enrolled in subsidized insurance exchanges. Indeed, while private, for-profit, medical centers like Swedish generally lose money treating patients on Medicaid and Medicare, Federally Qualified Community Health Centers like Country Doctor generally receive better compensation from Medicaid through extra subsidies, often times making the payouts from the government program preferable to private insurance, who might persistently negotiate down prices or refuse to pay for certain items, for FQCH’s like Country Doctor, Kovar said.

The Affordable Care Act encouraged the opening of the new after-hours clinic not only because Country Doctor stands to possibly see increased revenue through a potentially more well-funded payer mix than before, but also because the bill is making it less lucrative for private hospitals to treat some patients in the ER, McVeigh said.

The prospect of saving money, especially come January, by steering patients away from what Kovar termed “inappropriate use” of the emergency room, and towards the after-hours clinic, as well as the chance to help Country Doctor provide better healthcare to the community, has motivated Swedish to assist the clinic in its new venture. In addition to the $200,000 start-up grant from the Swedish Foundation, the hospital is leasing the space for the after-hours Clinic, used by Swedish as a resident family medicine clinic from 9am to 5pm on weekdays, to CDCHC for just $1 per year. There are even talks of eventually setting up another Country Doctor after-hours Clinic at another Swedish location if the Cherry Hill effort proves a success.

“I think it’s been good we’ve started off slow,” said McVeigh, who described the new after-hours clinic’s December 2 launch as a “soft opening.” “We have an all new staff, in a whole new facility. All of those staff are using a whole new electronic health record, so it’s been good there haven’t been 40 people a night storming the doors,” she said.

“But we need to build up a patient population there, or we’re not going to be able to continue it, because we won’t be able to afford it.”

As for Country Doctor, the organization stands to be able to both provide better care to the community at large, and also to its existing patients at its primary care clinics, through running the after-hours Clinic.

“First of all, it’s our mission to provide access in our community, to care, and this is one way to do it,” McVeigh said. The director said that over the last several years Country Doctor has been realizing it needs to able to provide “episodic care” to people who do not necessarily want to establish ongoing care with a primary physician, and that patients who call in to Country Doctor, especially those who are not established patients, will often be able to be seen much sooner at the after-hours Clinic than they would be if they had to wait for appointment at one of CDCHC’s existing primary care clinics. Even for existing patients, the wait time for a non-emergency appointment can be up to a week, McVeigh said. She hopes the after-hours will free up some of the urgent care needs the primary care clinics currently get swamped down with so that those sites can better focus on providing ongoing care for patients who make the clinics their “medical home.”

IMG_6666Though it is set up to provide one-off care to people with urgent needs, the after-hours Clinic still upholds CDCHC’s mission of providing more comprehensive health care, in part by trying to connect urgent care patients to places where they can establish longer term care.

“Our goal is to hook people,” Kovar said. “We’re referring people who do not have a medical home to medical homes,” he explained. “By nature of them coming to here to be seen, they are now an established patient, a new patient [with CDCHC], and then if they live in other communities, where there are other community clinics, other community health centers, we will recommend them to those health centers,” Kovar said. Connecting urgent care patients with primary care is also one way that the after-hours Clinic can help “break the cycle” of people waiting so long to get care because they believe they cannot afford a doctor that they end up in the emergency room, and possibly the hospital, McVeigh said.

One of the biggest challenges in getting the after-hours Clinic off the ground was finding clinicians to staff it, both McVeigh and Kovar said, due to the nights and weekends schedule the clinic demands, and other challenges. Though Country Doctor was unable to hire any MD’s to staff the clinic, they were able to hire of staff of four nurse practitioners, three of whom are recent graduates of Seattle University’s nursing program, located just a few blocks away from the Cherry Hill location of the clinic.

“We’re pretty excited about the fact that we have ARNPs staffing that clinic,” McVeigh said “I think it’s the wave of the future, because there aren’t enough docs.” McVeigh and Kovar also both said that it is a benefit to have practitioners already familiar with and invested in the local community. Indeed, in addition to the new-hires at the after-hours clinic, most other practitioners for CDCHC live in or close to the communities they work in. “90% of us live in the neighborhood,” Kovar said. “This is our community.”

You can learn more at countrydoctor.org.