‘Growth. We’re looking to really expand throughout Onondaga County,’ says president and chief executive officer of Syracuse Community Health Center
By Mary Beth Roach
Q: Can you briefly describe the work of the SCHC?
A: Syracuse Community Health is a federally qualified health center. What we provide is primary care services, along with other specialty services all under one roof. We provide primary care, dental, pediatrics, podiatry, OB-GYN, mental health and substance abuse counseling, eye care and we also have a dispensary [for eyeglasses]. We also have a pharmacy in house as a contract.
Q: The public that you serve, are there income requirements or uninsured or the underinsured?
A: We provide primary care and those services that I laid out to anyone who comes. Commercial insurance, private insurance, managed care plans, etc. Because we are an FQHC, we do have to provide a sliding fee scale and folks who cannot pay, we still provide services. We’re not a free clinic. We are not here just to serve the underserved. People come to the health center who have Medicare or Medicaid and other commercial health insurance.
Q: To give our readers a scope of the SCHC, what is your budget and how are you funded?
A: Our budget is $25 million. We are funded by our billing, what we bill for our services — the vast majority of where our money comes from. We do receive a federal grant that is meant to subsidize those sliding fee scales.
Q: How many employees do you have?
A: We have about 200 employees.
Q: How many sites do you have throughout the city and where are they?
A: We have a total of 12 sites. We have our South Salina Street site; our Oswego Street site on the west side; our East Fayette Street site on the east side. Our South Avenue site is not operational right now, but there are plans to open that come 2022. Then we have eight school-based health centers.
Q: How many people do you serve on an annual basis?
A: We serve approximately 30,000 patients a year.
Q: I saw that the facility has recently opened an urgent care center at your downtown/South Salina Street location. What are its hours?
A: From 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Friday. We’ve had urgent care; it was closed four years ago.
Q: Why did it close and what prompted it to reopen?
A: There’s a multitude of issues. The health center was facing some pretty challenging financial issues. That’s the reason I came on as interim in 2018. Why we opened it back up is to be able to provide that access to services to our patients that fits more into the schedule. Being open until 8 p.m. allows additional time for us to see patients. We plan on opening on the weekends hopefully within the next few weeks. We have some of the same challenges that other healthcare facilities have during the pandemic, one being staffing.
Q: The SCHC was one of the leaders in the community’s response to the pandemic. You were one of the first sites in the area to offer testing when the pandemic broke out in March of 2020. How did all that come about?
A: We’re just uniquely situated to be able to accommodate a request such as that. We were able to work with the county and get the word out for our drive-through testing. It just worked really well. During that time, we saw about 40,000 patients and provided about 51,000 tests [some people have gotten tested more than once]. It was just a way for us to accommodate the need. Something that other area providers and health agencies really aren’t equipped to do, facility-wise and staffing-wise.
Q: How has the organization grown since you’ve taken over?
A: When I started, we were really in some financial straits. Over the last three and a half years, we have been able to get that more on a financial footing. Our strategy last year was a growth strategy, and then the pandemic hit and that just put a wrench in everything. Almost two years later, we’re still dealing with the pandemic. Our growth strategy that we were looking to embark on, we had to put that on hold, and that’s something strategically that we are looking to do now, which is to grow our footprint throughout Onondaga County.
Q: You’ve been able to stabilize the financial end of things. How did you accomplish that?
A: We stabilized our services, our staffing. We did a lot as far as controlling our costs. We were able to ensure that we’re billing and collecting on all the services we were eligible for. All that really contributed to stabilizing our financial picture.
Q: What do you see for the future?
A: Growth. We’re looking to really expand throughout Onondaga County. We have a new building we’re going to break ground on in May of 2022. It’s a new 56,000-square foot building that will at the 930 [S. Salina St.] location, which is basically across from our 819 [S. Salina St.] location. We just received a grant from the federal government to establish a residency program, so we’re going to be partnering with the Upstate – SUNY Upstate residency program. It’s really an exciting time for the health center.
Q: How would the residency program work?
A: What will happen is that the residents that are at SUNY will rotate through the health center. Certain ones, not all of them. If we can make that service available on a limited basis at the health center, it then provides another service to our patients. It’s just at the embryonic stages at this point. We have some work to do, but we’re in a good position with it.
Q: Your new facility, what is your plan for that?
A: We’re going to move our existing services at our 819 location to our 930 location.
Q: Will the 819 location still be open?
A: We haven’t determined what we’re going to do with the 819 location. It’ll be open, but in what fashion we don’t know. We’re in the midst of deciding what exactly we want to do with that space, as we move forward. Our existing building is two floors and consists of 78,000 square feet. We have some options on what to do with that space.