The doctor’s office on the hill above Key Center, where generations of Key Peninsula families have received medical care, is about to have new management.
Dr. William Roes opened Key Medical Center in 1993. Community Health Care, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit medical provider based in Tacoma, is preparing to buy the practice and take charge.
“We are on target to purchase the clinic and be ready to go by Jan. 1,” said Corey Hatfield, the CHC assistant medical director. “That’s still kind of up in the air a little bit. We’re going to be doing some improvements.”
The new name will be Community Health Care Key Medical Clinic.
The current employees will all be invited to apply for the same jobs at the new clinic. “We’re anticipating that the staff that is there will be the existing staff when we take it over,” Hatfield said. “Our intention is to continue along the same lines of the good work that Dr. Roes and Dean (Shriner) have been doing all this time, and to partner up with the other folks that are out there.”
William Roes, M.D., and Dean Shriner, A.R.N.P., F.N.P. have been familiar fixtures on the KP for more than 40 years.
“Dean has been here since 1978,” Roes said. “I came in ’79 as a resident in training from Tacoma Family Medicine.”
In 1981, Roes and Shriner started working together at the KP Community Health Center, a nonprofit that evolved from a volunteer clinic started at the Longbranch Community Church in 1974. Roes began a three-year commitment there under the National Health Service Corp. to pay for his medical school tuition in exchange for working in an underserved community.
“When I completed that, I worked another three years as an employee of the health center, and they sold me the practice,” Roes said. “Dean and I were here; we were going to take care of the community. That was just sort of the mindset we had.”
Roes built a new facility on the hill above Key Center and moved the practice there in 1993.
“I’ve been up here in this building for nearly 30 years trying to attract a partner,” he said. “There isn’t an appetite for risk in young physicians and part of that is because they come out with such a debt load.”
The practice serves about 3,500 patients, the most they can afford according to Roes. “I’ll be 70 in December,” he said. “I love what I do and I want to keep doing it for a while, but I need to have a plan.
“We’ve been talking with the community clinics and much of what they do is what we do with a focus on serving low income,” he said. “The federal government supports them, especially for Medicaid. For us, that’s the lowest paying; for them, it’s a great deal.”
Community Health Care is a recognized Federally Qualified Health Center that receives funds from the Health Resources and Services Administration to provide primary care services in underserved areas. It has been in business for 51 years and served 49,000 patients in 2019 at its five clinics in the greater Tacoma area. Key Center would be the sixth.
Russ Sondker, the CHC marketing and development manager, estimated there are about 5,000 Medicaid patients on the KP. He said that adding two or more providers to the new clinic could provide care for an additional 1,000 patients. “One thing we try to do is reduce barriers to care and one of our strategies is to provide as many services as possible at our clinic site for that.”
“As it stands, there’s going to be Dr. Roes, Dean Shriner, and then we’re adding a pediatrician one day a week to start with,” Hatfield said. “We’re looking at having a family practice with OB, a behavioral health consultant, and we’re doing renovations to set up a small pharmacy on site.”
“Eventually we’re going to want to add dental care, although that’s a nut that we haven’t really cracked yet,” Sondker said. “But one thing about Community Health Care, if you are on Medicaid, you can come to any of our clinics if you’re willing to drive across the (Narrows) bridge and get the care you need. And since we provide for uninsured on a sliding scale based on income and family size, that goes for all services, including dental.”
Hatfield also said CHC is “more than willing” to partner with The Mustard Seed Project in caring for residents of its assisted living campus, which is slated to begin construction just up the road from the clinic by mid-2021.
“Our goal is to be a resource so people don’t have to hurt every day,” Sondker said. “Our job is to provide care to the community, not to limit it to a certain patient population or a certain insurance population. You need care, just come and get it.”
“Because we’re a full-spectrum family practice we get to see everything from birth to geriatric,” Hatfield said. “I’m a physician’s assistant myself and I’ve been here for 19 years, and one of the draws is I get to see a great deal of different types of individuals… We work very hard trying to take care of all their social needs too, in conjunction with a lot of other entities in Pierce County. Being part of the community itself and the services we provide not only for adults, but for children, those with HIV, those with hepatitis, those folks that are homeless and maybe have some drug addiction problems or something like that, we provide services for those folks as well. For me, it’s fulfilling.”
Roes intends to stay on the job for at least another year, “and perhaps significantly longer than that,” he said.
“I want to serve these people better. I want to offer more services. I’d like to spend a little more time at the beach. I’d like to do a little writing. A little traveling. I don’t see myself retiring from medicine.”
UNDERWRITTEN BY NEWSMATCH/MIAMI FOUNDATION, THE ANGEL GUILD, ROTARY CLUB OF GIG HARBOR, ADVERTISERS, DONORS AND PEOPLE WHO SUPPORT LOCAL, INDEPENDENT NONPROFIT NEWS