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East Carbon Medical Clinic looks to more years of service

Carbon Medical Service is located at 305 Center Street in East Carbon and has been servicing the east county area for many years.

Sun Advocate reporter

Sitting on a quiet street corner in East Carbon, the building's brick and turquoise siding contrasts perfectly with the clean and clear skies above. With over 50 years of service, the building is beginning to show its age, but the doors have been open ever since serving the local community with the intention of helping whoever steps inside. For some who work at the Carbon Medical Service Clinic, 100 more years of community service is not out of the question.

The clinic was created on July 13, 1952, when the Carbon Medical Service Association was incorporated to help meet the needs of the coal miners and their families in Carbon and Emery County.

The Association used a 501(c)4 membership organization which, much like the modern HMOs, required members to pay membership dues and in turn they received medical services.

Throughout its history, the clinic has dealt with a number of challenges. The ups and downs of the coal mining industry with the closing and reopening of mines, companies going bankrupt and workers leaving the area searching for other opportunities. Through all of this, the clinic still provided those patients who came to them for care. However, a bigger problem seemed to be hanging over the clinic: staying open.

In 1992, the clinic's board of directors began the process of taking steps to ensure that the clinic would stay open for service in the community. The clinic looked into the possibility of having Castleview Hospital take over the clinic and operate it. But ultimately it was decided that the best option would be for the clinic to stay non-profit with its community board of directors. Carbon Medical got in connection with the Association for Utah Community Health and the State of Utah Bureau of Primary Care/Rural Health Association.

In order to stay open, the clinic then began looking into federal assistance, applying for a designation as a Federally Qualified Health Center. In April 1992, the designation for Federally Qualified Health Center was awarded. In October 1992, after applying for a grant from the Department of Health and Human Services, the clinic was awarded a grant of $89,106. The clinic has been receiving grant money ever since, growing to over $507,610 in 2009-2010.

Those who were a part of the transition of the clinic remember the long hours and tireless work needed to keep the clinic open.

"If I had to go back and do all of the work all over again, I would," said Yvonne Jensen, executive director of Carbon Medical Service.

Jensen, 72, has been involved with the clinic since the 1980s and has seen Carbon Medical change and adapt to the times. The long hours of looking for federal assistance and trying to keep the clinic afloat were worth the effort in return for the service the clinic provides to patients in the community.

"There were volumes and volumes of work we had to get done to keep it open," Jensen said. "The hard work was fulfilling because I know I have made a difference in not seeing the clinic have to close down."

After some restructuring by the board of directors, the clinic became a community health center and applied to be a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. Since then, the clinic has brought over $1.6 million in federal money and over $600,000 in state primary grant care grant money into the community.

In June 2003, Carbon Medical purchased the Helper Clinic in Helper with no additional federal assistance from a private practice doctor who left the area. In addition to having another site available for patients to visit, the uninsured and homeless populations have a place to go, Jensen said.

The clinic also has a pharmacy branch in Green River, providing the only pharmacy service in the area. Using newer services such as a telepharmacy system and a medical manager system, which provides the clinic the ability to network with other community health centers in Utah, New Mexico and Florida for the payment management of patient accounts, the clinic is keeping pace with technology.

Recently the board of directors has undergone some change. Ivan McCourt, 92, announced he was leaving his position as chairman of the board after 30 years of service. McCourt, a former coal miner and longtime resident of Columbia, said it was time for him to step aside.

"Thirty years is a long time to be on the board and I had been there long enough anyway," McCourt laughed. He was replaced as chairman of the board by Joe Bonacci, former mayor of Helper.

As the clinic continues to provide a service to people in Carbon County, it needs to stay on top of everything including the constant changes in technology and keeping staff well informed and educated, Jensen said.

Keeping the clinic going for 100 more years will surely bring more ups and downs but Jensen believes everyone on the staff intends to keeping working hard for as long as possible, including herself.

"We're going in the right direction with the clinic," she said. "And I intend to be here as long as I can function."

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