A Time Of Growth For Outer Cape Health Services

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: Health

Liz Curtis, the call center supervisor, is one of about five people already working at the new Outer Cape Health services location in Harwich Port. Many more will be coming in the weeks ahead. ALAN POLLOCK PHOTO

HARWICH PORT Outer Cape Health Services, the region's nonprofit community health center, is on the edge of something big.

The health care provider is launching a major expansion in Harwich Port, based at the former Thompson's Farm Market property at 710 Route 28. Two weeks ago, Outer Cape moved its telephone call center to the building's spacious upstairs offices, where a team of workers handled 1,100 requests for appointments in the first week. The “access center” will soon be handling all types of calls, not just appointments.

The goal is to allow the receptionists at Outer Cape's health centers in South Harwich, Wellfleet and Provincetown to focus more on face-to-face interactions with patients, said Jayne Lowe, who directs the access center. The high-tech center will also have the ability to track call trends, helping officials better understand which of the health centers draw from which communities at various times of the week, month and year.

Next week, Outer Cape's administrative support staff will begin moving in to the Harwich Port space. The effort will centralize staff, boost efficiency and reduce paperwork, and will relieve the extremely cramped quarters in the current administrative office, a leased house in Wellfleet. But having the centralized administration area isn't an end in itself; it is a necessary component of Outer Cape's next big leap in size.

Acting on the results of a community needs assessment, the health care provider is planning to open an expanded health center on the first floor of the Harwich Port property, which will ultimately have a large suite of treatment rooms for primary care services, behavioral health rooms, and space for a pharmacy and various other patient services. Outer Cape Health Services purchased the former Stone Horse Motel in South Harwich with the goal of building a health center there, but has since put the property on the market and entered into a lease agreement with the owners of 710 Route 28, Trish and Tom Kennedy.

The change means a period of growth for the nonprofit, which will see its number of full- and part-time employees rise from around 180 to over 200. The key, Director of Program Management Resources Andy Lowe said, is to ensure that revenues grow along with expenses. To that end, a marketing campaign and a fundraising program will soon begin. Another key challenge will be ensuring that the center has enough clinicians to meet the larger patient load.

“Staffing up is going to be a big thing,” he said. “There's a shortage of primary care health service providers, period.” As a federally qualified health center, Outer Cape has the ability to offer incentives to new clinicians like student loan forgiveness.

Statistically, about one-third of Outer Cape's patients pay with private insurance, one-third pay with Medicare, and the remainder pay with Medicaid. Outer Cape Health Services does not decline patients because of an inability to pay, and between 8 and 9 percent of patients have no insurance.

Learn more at www.OuterCape.org.