Montana town debates future of its only health clinic

The future hangs in the balance for the only healthcare clinic in the small town of Lincoln, Montana, according to a report in the Billings Gazette.

Residents are divided over whether the Parker Medical Center, which is run as a satellite clinic of the PureView Health Center in nearby Helena, should remain in business, the newspaper reported. The doctor who now staffs the clinic is stepping down in June to take another job.

About 30 town residents met last week to discuss the medical services provided at the Parker Medical Center, which is operated through an agreement with the PureView board and the Lewis and Clark County. Residents met with representatives of both PureView and the county to voice their concerns and received assurance that the Lincoln clinic will stay open unless townspeople no longer want it.

Some residents have been critical of the services provided by PureView and a local group has formed that has called for terminating the organization's services in Lincoln, according to the newspaper. But closure of the clinic will leave the town, which is isolated in the mountainous area between Helena and Missoula, without any local healthcare services. The Lincoln clinic sees about eight patients a day.

Joyce Cheney, who has lived in Lincoln the past eight years, told the newspaper that it's often uncertain if anyone will be staffing the local clinic when she calls for an appointment. But she said, closure of Parker would not be good. "It's just kind of peace of mind for people out here, way in the middle of nowhere, basically. It's just kind of nice to know there's a medical facility close if anything happens," she said.

PureView is trying to recruit a new physician to staff the Lincoln clinic. With a shortage of rural physicians that may be a challenge. The job includes being the radiologist, pharmacist and handling the front desk when needed. 

If a physician can't be found, it may seek a nurse practitioner. That may be a more practical option. As FiercePracticeMangement previously reported, rural areas continue to be hit hard by the primary care physician shortage and nurse practitioners are more likely than doctors to provide care in those communities.

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