The building, located just west of Third Avenue in Ronan, will offer full-service primary care, urgent care, a dedicated area for infectious patients, an infusion center, behavioral health services and a pharmacy. Construction on a second phase, which will include physical therapy services and a community fitness center, begins in late May with an expected opening in early 2024.

Tribal members are “really excited to have full-service health care here,” Tribal Member Services Director Patty Hibbela said in a recent interview. He noted that Ronan’s Flathead Reservation has the largest population of tribal members and is home to many CSKT businesses and employees.

When Ronan’s original clinic was demolished in 2021 for highway construction, it was replaced by a small, temporary clinic that provided limited primary care to tribal elders. Other tribal members had to go to Polson and St. Ignatius for health services. Accessing health care was further complicated by the lack of public transportation and the limited capacity of the two large clinics.

The tribe received compensation for the construction of a new clinic as part of the expansion of Hwy. 93, the COVID-19 pandemic caused delays and significant cost overruns, forcing CSKT to scale back projects and reduce both square footage and health services.

Because of increased building costs, “we had to take phase two off the table,” Hiebeler said.

The construction of the first phase started about two years ago but was hampered due to shortage of materials. “Sourcing with construction has been difficult across the country and has really added time to every build – and this is certainly no exception,” he said.

With the first phase finally on the verge of opening, a financial grant has allowed the tribe to move forward with phase two – building a physical therapy and community fitness center on the west side of the new clinic. Thanks to funding through the federal New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC) program, that portion of the project now has the green light.

Once complete, the entire health center will occupy 12,000-square feet and cost an estimated $10.3 million. Funding for the final phase was assembled through a partnership between CSKT, US Bank and community development lender MoFi.

Hibbeler said a central focus of the new clinic is maternal and infant services. For example, he said, tribal health data show that a significant number of young people experience shortness of breath or asthma. The spacious clinic can accommodate a monthly asthma clinic and other preventive health offerings.

The infusion center will enable tribal health to provide treatment for certain types of cancer or blood conditions so patients don’t have to travel to Kalispell or Missoula for care.

Tribal Health will also look at ways to partner with larger organizations like Providence and Logan Health to bring more specialty clinics to Ronan. “It allows us to think differently about how we can partner efficiently by bringing it in instead of building it within our own system, which allows us to really focus on economies of scale,” Hibbler said.

The health center will also continue to work closely with local health care providers, including St. Luke’s Hospital in Ronan.

“We now partner very closely with St. Luke’s and we don’t expect that to change,” Hibbler said. “Many times we serve the same patient in different ways so coordination becomes critical as we continue our health services within the preserve, but begin to build on what our Ronan Clinic offers.”

The new health center will employ 17 people, including primary care providers. Some are currently employed at the old clinic, while others will receive new assignments.

“Recruiting in healthcare is difficult,” Hibbler noted. “It was a lot easier to recruit people to come here before our housing costs and cost of living went up.”

Tribal Health estimates the new clinic will see about 3,000 patients a year and the new pharmacy – the largest in the CSKT system – will fill an estimated 35,000 prescriptions a year.

“Those are huge numbers,” Hibbler said, and could translate to improved health care across the reservation. “It’s going to take some of the load off the St. Ignatius and Polson clinics, so we expect wait times to decrease as we open up more appointments for patients across the board.”

The handsome new health center, with its stone, wood and glass facade, was designed by MMW Architects and built by Dick Anderson Construction, both of Missoula.

“People are really excited — they can’t wait for it to open,” Hibbler said. “They want to see the beauty inside and how it’s designed.”

The public will get their first look at the grand opening on May 4, 3-6 p.m.

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