History

49 years of caring for the North Country

A Little About Our Past…

  • Founded as north country children’s clinic in 1971

    by a group of volunteers led by Dr. George Sturtz and staff from local health and human service agencies including Dick Charles who would become the agency’s first Executive Director. The organization was created to fill a void in pediatric health care when a community survey found that many North Country children were not visiting a doctor between leaving the hospital at birth and entering school. Families might seek emergency care, but because of a lack of transportation and insurance coverage, their children were not receiving regular well care – including immunizations and physical assessments to catch and treat problems early.

    North Country Children’s Clinic created an innovative model that provided well-care in local communities using a network of volunteers and staff from health facilities and non-profit agencies. The model was so successful that within three years, it had expanded to provide care to children across Jefferson, Lewis, Franklin and St. Lawrence Counties. In 1974 the agency sought and obtained one of the first WIC programs in the nation to supplement its health care offerings with nutritious foods to promote growth and development.

    North Country Children’s Clinic’s founding principal of offering all children quality healthcare, regardless of their family’s income, remains the agency’s foundation today. The Children’s Clinic provides care for working families who find health care a luxury that they struggle to afford and also sees many families who are covered by private insurance. These families choose our practice because they value the quality of our care. Their confidence is testimony to our success. We combine quality, empathy and access in an atmosphere that welcomes children and families from all walks of life. Our mission and our values make us a model for patient-centered care in the 21st century.

  • The first well child clinic was held on October 12, 1971

    at the North Side Improvement League, a donated site in Watertown. Volunteer and released public health nurses and doctors provided healthcare while teaching families how to help their children grow up healthy. The premise was that prevention, early detection and parenting education would ultimately result in lowered health care costs and, of course, healthier children.
  • 1974 adds women’s, infant’s and children’s nutrition program (WIC)

    In 1974 North Country Children’s Clinic added one of the first WIC programs in the nation. The United States Department of Agriculture paid for infant formula, milk, eggs, and cereal for eligible participants. The WIC program began modestly with a caseload of 200 infants, children and pregnant women across all four counties and an operating budget of less than $100,000. Today, thousands of participants benefit from nutritious foods, nutrition advice and counseling, and breastfeeding support.
  • The 1980s

    1980 NCCC staff noted increasing rates of teen pregnancy. As a result, North Country Children’s Clinic accepted a federally funded contract through Planned Parenthood of Northern New York to provide prenatal education services to adolescents. The combination of WIC foods, intensive education and regular prenatal health care resulted in improved pregnancy outcomes. When funding from Planned Parenthood ended, the Maternal and Early Childhood Foundation agreed to cover some of the Adolescent Pregnancy Program costs.

    1982 With a small State grant, the Clinic developed a fourth program to address the need for families to use child auto safety seats. CHICS, the agency’s car seat program, promoted childhood safety and loaned seats to families lacking the financial resources to purchase their own. CHICS no longer exists but the safety education is incorporated into our health and nutrition programs.

    1982 The Board of Directors honored agency co-founder Richard E Charles by establishing the Richard E. Charles Memorial Fund. Funds placed in the REC Fund are to be used for delivering healthcare services to uninsured and underinsured children.

    1988 North Country Children’s Clinic initiates a School Breakfast Program in the Watertown City School District. In the following years, the Clinic operated a Nutrition Outreach Program to promote school breakfast programs in other rural school districts in St. Lawrence, Lewis, and Franklin Counties. With a 100% success rate, the program ended in 1995.

    September 11, 1989 NCCC opened the Pediatric Medical Program (Primary Care) in the City of Watertown. Although any child has access to this program, the goal is regular healthcare for uninsured/underinsured children. Pediatricians and nurse practitioners saw patients from birth to 21 years, for wellness, and acute and chronic illnesses. NCCC physicians, on staff at Samaritan Medical Center (SMC) since 1995, also provide inpatient care. Clients enrolled in the PCC program have 24-hour access to medical staff through an “on call” system. The Clinic is open some evenings and weekend hours. Expanded hours ensure that Clinic families don’t have to visit the hospital emergency rooms for primary care needs. The New York State Department of Health, the New York State Legislature, and the Northern New York Community Foundation provided start-up funds for the Watertown Primary Care Program.

    1989 The NCCC Board established the Children’s Action Award to recognize individuals or groups in the community who have made a major contribution to improving the lives of children in Northern New York.

  • The 1990s

    1991 Five of the Clinic’s original rural, well child clinics in Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties closed due to federal and state funding cuts. Despite still receiving some funding from the St. Lawrence County Board of Legislators and due to federal funding cutbacks, and the advent of Managed Care, the remaining well child clinics closed in St. Lawrence, Franklin and Lewis Counties by the fall of 1996.

    May 6, 1991 NCCC opened its first primary dental program at the Mercy Hospital in Watertown to serve Medicaid and uninsured patients. These services are now provided in our downtown Watertown facility at 238 Arsenal Street. The Dental program targeted children but also saw some adults in all community sites. Staff also provides dental care to soldiers at Ft. Drum and military family members.

    May 1992 The Massena Primary Care program opened part-time and grew to full time in January 1996, with a full time pediatrician who was on the staff of Massena Memorial Hospital. The New York State Legislature, Catholic Charities, and the greater Massena community provided start-up funds for this clinic. That Clinic closed in December 1997 due to lack of physicians and funds.

    October 1993 NCCC added Mental Health services in Watertown. A part-time clinical psychologist integrated the mental health services into the NCCC Pediatric Medical Program.

    December 1993 NCCC opened its first School-Based Health Center at North Elementary School in the Watertown City School District. Children from the other five elementary schools in the district also used that new service, transportation being available via a van provided by the City School District.

    1995 Children from 4-6th grades became eligible for care at the North Elementary site. The NYS Primary Care Initiative Grant, in-kind donations from the Watertown City School district, and private donations provided start-up funds for this program.

    January 1994 The NCCC Dental Program opened a School-Based site at Watertown High School. This was the first school program in NY State to have a dentist on-site to provide treatment and preventive care. A dental hygienist is also available for preventive care. Start-up funds for this program came from the E.J. Noble Foundation and in-kind donations from the Watertown School District. The Northern New York Community Foundation was responsible for raising private funds to support both of the school-based programs’ start-up costs.

    August 1994 Staff opened the NCCC Dental Program in downtown Ogdensburg. The NYS Department of Health, United Helpers, Ronald McDonald Children’s Charities, Travelers Foundation, Corning Foundation, NYNEX Foundation, and Chase Manhattan Foundation were the major donors of start-up funds for this project.

    Fall 1996 The Watertown High School-Based Health Center opened. A nurse practitioner and a certified social worker, that provides mental health services, are present at WHS. A New York State Department of Health grant, TANF and HCRA funds assist with funding this program.

    Fall 1996 NCCC opened a primary care clinic in Malone. Funds were raised from the community, the ALCOA Foundation and the Upper Hudson Primary Care Consortium for this clinic. Enrollment at this site reached 900 children in July 1998. This Clinic closed August 1, 1999 due to lack of physicians and funding.

    April 1997 NCCC opened a third school-based clinic at Case Junior High School in Watertown with start up funds from the Northern New York Community Foundation. The clinic is staffed by a nurse practitioner.

    1997 Financial problems prompted NCCC to slash $225,000 (9.5 FTEs) from the annual budget that included closing the Massena Primary Care Program at the end of December 1997. In early 1998, the Board of Directors and staff held a strategic planning session and developed a 5-year business plan to ensure increased agency profitability, increased quality of care and increased staff and community support.

    1999 NCCC started a program in Watertown called Teen Talk in cooperation with the Family Y, local high schools, and other interested individuals to reach out to area teens that wanted help with teen-life issues. Motivated high school students who received intensive training answered a “warm line” for a few hours five evenings each week. The majority of the calls dealt with romantic and family issues of great importance to adolescents. State funds for this program ended June 30, 2001. NCCC discontinued this program in June 2004 due to lack of funds.

    1999 NCCC implement a new Y2K-compliant billing system under a contract with Samaritan Medical Center. The transition was funded by $57,000 in funds from Bell Atlantic, Kinney Drugs, the ALCOA Foundation, and the John Ben Snow Foundation.

  • The 21st century begins

    2000-2003 The Children’s Clinic was awarded contracts through the North Country Prenatal/Perinatal Council and the North Country Primary Care Consortium for Facilitated Enrollment to assist families in Jefferson, St. Lawrence and Franklin Counties apply for publicly funded insurances.

    July 6, 2000 NCCC opened the Lowville Dental Clinic. Start up funds came from the Lewis County Public Health, the Lewis County Legislature, the Pratt Northam Foundation and the Northern New York Community Foundation.

    March 2001 Before launching a fund raising campaign to increase funds for uninsured care, the Board held a Board/Staff Strategic Planning Day.

    December 2002 NCCC opened a fourth school-based Clinic at Wiley School in Watertown. At the same time, staff moved the WHS-based Dental Clinic to Wiley to better serve the needs of area school children.

    2003 NYS was awarded a Kellogg Foundation grant of which NCCC is a subcontractor. The grant funds are used to assist with promotion and advocacy for School Based Health Centers in NYS. This has allowed the NCCC SBHC program to educate local students about SBHC and the legislative process in Albany through which our SBHC are funded.

    2004 The agency purchased a facility in downtown Watertown

    October 2005, NCCC moved Primary Care, WIC, Dental, Facilitated Enrollment, Mental Health, Adolescent Pregnancy, and Administrative Support services. We launched a Capital Campaign under Board member and Campaign Chair, Cathy Pircsuk, and we raised over $2.6 million of the total project cost of $3 million.

    2006 NCCC was designated as a clinical training site for the Monroe Community College/Jefferson Community College Dental Hygiene Program. NCFHC launches updated website thanks to donation of expertise by Infinite Media.

    January 2007 – NCCC designates campus as a “Smoke-Free Zone”.

    Summer 2007 NCCC Primary Care hired two full-time pediatricians to work with our part-time Medical Director.

    Fall 2007 NCCC opened a School Based Health Clinic at the Mannsville Elementary School, our first clinic in the South Jefferson School District. That site includes a Nurse Practitioner, a dentist and a social worker. The dental program has taken their services to other South Jefferson schools, made possible by purchasing portable equipment through a NYS Dental grant and funds from the Northern New York Community Foundation.

    Winter 2007 NCCC continued to receive funds from the NYSDOH, USDA, the NYS Legislature, the St. Lawrence County Board of Legislators, the E. J Noble Foundation, the Northern New York Community Foundation, the Kinney Foundation and many other loyal private donors. Also part of that funding is NYS HCRA and federal TANF funds to support mental health and school-based healthcare. We received notification from Senators Hillary Clinton and Charles Schumer that the Clinic would be awarded a $473,707 federal grant that can be used to purchase capital equipment. Preliminary data indicates that all NCCC programs served over 34,000 children and families in more than 90,000 visits.

    Spring 2008 NCCC was not in the 2008 NYS Legislative Budget due to loss of majority status in the NYS Senate. Staff sought funds through the Governor’s Office. Layoffs of staff and reduction in salaries were implemented to reflect that loss of funding

    Summer/Fall 2008 Staff and Board held a Strategic Planning session. Staff is concerned with the welfare of Clinic families with the severe economic downturn and the rising costs of home heating, gasoline, food and housing.

    March 2009 NCCC Goes live on Facebook

    July 2009 Executive Director Janice Charles retires. Aileen Martin is selected as her successor. NCCC purchases Centricity as new electronic medical record and begins implementation planning.

    October 2009 – NCCC opens a 2nd school-based health center in the South Jefferson School District at Wilson Elementary School.

    July 2010 – NCCC successfully tests and offers telepsychiatry services via a fiber-optic network connection with Upstate Medical Center.

    October 2010 – NYS DOH implements APG Medicaid reimbursement. This is a significant change from the traditional threshold visit payment methodology. This implementation is effective retroactively to September 2009 with the end result being a $109,000 take-back from the Department of Health.

    April 2011 – Due to funding shortages, NCCC closes its Ogdensburg Dental Clinic after 16 years of service to St. Lawrence County.

    March 2012 – NCCC awarded Level 2 Certification as a Patient-Centered Medical Home by the National Committee on Quality Assurance (NCQA).

  • The birth of north country family health center

    June 2012 North Country Children’s Clinic receives word that we have been named a Federally Qualified Health Center. The designation will mean significant changes in the way the agency does business.
    June 2012 – Aileen Martin leaves the agency after 4 years as Executive Director. Collene Dare Alexander begins work as her successor.

    October 2012 – Mrs. Alexander resigns. Janice L. Charles, Retired Executive Director returns to serve as the Interim Executive Director.

    October 2012 – NCCC begins the process of a name change (North Country Family Health Center, Inc.) NCCC opens their Adult Primary Care Center. Pediatric Primary Care, the School-Based Health Centers, and the new Adult Care Center “went live” with the GE Centricity Electronic Medical Record.

    January 2013 – Without advertising of the Adult Care Center, new patients are still waiting at least three weeks for an appointment. The Board of Directors has approved hiring an architectural firm to present plans for expansion of the adult services.

    August 2013 – The Board of Directors completes their search for an Executive Director and hires Daniel Wazneechak. Dan is welcomed by staff and community during a series of community events held in September

    September 2013 – The agency creates a position to oversee our Healthcare for the Homeless program. NCFHC begins reaching out to the community to find and provide coordinated care for the area’s homeless population.

    October 2013 – As a result of an extremely severe cash flow crisis, on Monday, October 7, the Board of Directors of North Country Family Health Center passed a resolution to temporarily suspend operations on Friday, October 11 at the close of business.

    After a meeting with The New York State Department of Health, legislators and Samaritan Medical Center (SMC) a plan was developed to allow the agency to keep it’s doors open.

    SMC agreed to assist in addressing the significant financial difficulties faced by taking on the role of “temporary operator” to help develop a long-term, sustainable solution that meets the needs of the community. They have also offered a loan of up to $200,000 to sustain operations through the next month. As Temporary Operator, SMC appointed Joey Marie Horton as Interim Executive Director and Dan Wazneechak resigned as Executive Director. The temporary Operator Agreement became official on October 31, 2013 and is to be in place for at least 6 months, with two 90-day extensions possible.

    November 2013 – SMC and NCFHC staff complete a Pro Forma financial plan to streamline and reorganize the agency for maximum efficiency. The plan included improving revenue by outsourcing billing, reducing no-show rates, increasing reimbursement rates, decreasing expenses by reducing staff by a net of 13 positions and restructuring operations, restructuring and reducing debt by paying off unsecured debt and refinancing a $1.1 million mortgage, and improving information technology by subcontracting to improve the efficiency of the center’s electronic medical records program.

  • A new beginning

    January 2014 - NCFHC’s medical and dental programs are consolidated under the leadership of a Clinical Operations Officer, overseeing pediatric and adult medical, school-based health, behavioral health, and dental programs.

    February 2014 Joey Marie Horton named Executive Director of North Country Family Health Center.

    August 2014 – NCFHC, SMC and the NYS DOH agree that the Temporary Operator oversight can be ended and control of the agency returned to the NCFHC Board of Directors.

    September 2014 – NCFHC opens Family Health Center in Lowville.

    January 2015 – Achieved 100% compliance on a federal onsite Operational Site Visit which assessed NCFHC’s compliance with its programmatic requirements.

    March 2015 – NCFHC achieves Level 3 Patient Centered Medical Home Status via the National Committee on Quality Assurance. Two family nurse practitioners begin working in Watertown Pediatric office – moving toward an integrated family health practice.

    May 2015 – NCFHC receives notification that FQHC grant has been approved for the next 3-year cycle

    June 2015 – NCFHC adds dental services to offerings at Lowville Family Health Center.

    September 2015 – NCFHC announces plans to transition the oversight of St. Lawrence and Franklin County WIC Program to Community Health Center of the North Country. This will align WIC programs with FQHC areas of coverage and provide easier access to medical, behavioral health and oral health services to WIC participants in those counties. The transition period will begin in October, 2015 and is expected to last six months.

    NCFHC receives HRSA Expanded Services grant to fund the increase dental services provided in Lowville to full-time.

    October 2015 – NCFHC and Samaritan Medical Center Boards of Directors sign Memorandum of Agreement to work toward a plan to transition the oversight of SMC Family Practice Clinics to NCFHC.

    October 2015 – A new School-Based Dental Program was established at Alexandria Central School District (dental services).

    January 2016 – NCFHC officially transfers WIC programs and staff to Community Health Center of the North Country.

    April 2016 – NCFHC is 2nd in region and 3rd in State to receive Level 3 Patient Centered Medical Home Status under more rigorous 2014 standards.

    May 2016 – NCFHC receives notification of the award of a $1 million in HRSA grant funding for infrastructure investment. The funds come as a result of an application submitted to expand clinical space, create a centralized check-in/check-out area, and promote further integration of medical, behavioral health, and dental services at 238 Arsenal Street.

    After eight months of exploring the potential transfer of Samaritan’s primary care clinics to the North Country Family Health Center (NCFHC), the respective Boards of both organizations voted to suspend the joint due diligence activities, thus deciding not to proceed with the move.

    October 2016 – A School-Based Dental Program commences at Copenhagen Central School District.

    October 2016 – Executive Director Joey M. Horton was presented with the Jeffrey T. Latman Award at the Community Health Center Association of New York State (CHCANYS) Annual Conference on October 31 in Tarrytown, New York. The award honors a health center executive who has shown exceptional commitment, dedication and service to his or her health center.

    February 2017 – Staff begins training on the 2017 Be Brilliant staff initiative. The training entitled “Be Brilliant: Promoting Positivity in the Workplace” is conducted by Cortel Improvement.

    March 2017 – Elaine Garvey, Marketing Director, retires after 34 years of employment. The Board of Directors presented Elaine with a resolution acknowledging her many years of service to NCFHC. April Fallon is hired as Director of Marketing and Community Relations.

    March 2017 – NCFHC is selected as the 2016 Large Not-For-Profit Business of the Year by the Greater Watertown North Country Chamber of Commerce.

    April 2017 – NCFHC closes its Family Practice medical site in Lowville due to lack of appointments. The Lowville dental site continues to operate with a full time dentist.

    May 2017 – On May 30th NCFHC opens its newest dental site in Evans Mills in the LeRay Medical Building as part of a federal Oral Health Expansion Grant.

    May 2017 – NCFHC began offering Medication Assisted Treatment to primary care patients at NCFHC’s main facility at 238 Arsenal Street.

    June 2017 – NCFHC’s Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program opened a site at the LeRay Medical Building and began offering WIC services to participants living on and around the Fort Drum Area.

    June 2017 – NCFHC’s Board of Directors approved a bid from Continental Construction, Gouverneur, for a $1.8M capital project at NCFHC’s main location at 238 Arsenal Street. The project was partially funded by a $1M HRSA Healthcare Infrastructure Investment Grant Program. Construction began on July 5, 2017. Construction was organized into three main phases and was set to conclude in July 2018.

    August, 2017 – Workers from Continental Construction and their subcontractors continue demolition work. Construction temporarily re-located NCFHC’s Watertown WIC program to 210 Court Street.

    September 2017 – NCFHC received a $175,700 federal grant to expand access to behavioral health and substance abuse services. The grant allowed NCFHC to expand its telepsychiatry services to provide weekly appointments to primary care patients in need of psychiatry evaluation and treatment. NCFHC hired a full-time Substance Abuse Care Coordinator to support patients suffering from substance use disorders.

    November 2017 – A renovated WIC Department and the new central registration area at NCFHC’s main location is completed and open to patients/clients. WIC moves back from their temporary location.

    November 2017 – A School-Based Dental Program commences at South Lewis Central School District.

    November 2017 – Mannsville Manor Elementary School-Based Health Center celebrates 10 years of service.

    March 2018 – On March 19th Excellus BlueCross BlueShield, along with NCFHC, held a joint press conference announcing the BCBS grant of $133,500. The announcement was hosted at Ohio Street Elementary. The grant allowed NCFHC to purchase five mobile, school-based dental units.

    August 2018 – NCFHC hosted an open house at its 238 Arsenal Street facility celebrating completion of the HRSA HIIP Capital Project. The Finance Team that was housed at 210 Court Street, in rented space, was moved back to NCFHC’s main location.

    Fall 2018 NCFHC received a $300,000 Empire State Development Grant in the fall of 2018 with assistance from Senator Patty Ritchie to expand its school-based dental services.

    December 2018 NCFHC staff and local political and school representatives celebrated the NCFHC’s 25th year of providing healthcare to students at their School-Based Health Center at North Elementary, 171 East Hoard Street.

    January 2019 Began providing preventative dental services to students enrolled in the ACES Program at Jefferson Lewis BOCES via its mobile School-Based Dental Program.

    February 2019 NCFHC began providing preventative dental services to students at Lyme Central School as result of the Empire State Development Grant.

    May 2019 NCFHC hosted its 20th annual spring fundraiser, entitled Night on the River, which raised over $50,000 for the first time.

    August 2019 Received a $145,000 HRSA grant for Integrated Behavioral Health Services to further expand its tele-psychiatry and care coordination service.

    September 2019 Received a $300,000 grant from the United States Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to assist with the expansion of oral health services in Lewis County. NCFHC was one of 298 health centers nationwide to receive funding. The grant money will allow for renovation and expansion of dental services at the Lowville community-based site located within Lewis County General Hospital, 7785 North State Street, Lowville.

    November 2019 Achieved 100% compliance on a federal onsite Operational Site Visit which assessed NCFHC’s compliance with its programmatic requirements. This was NCFHC’s second perfect site visit since it became a FQHC in 2012.

    December 2019 Anna Belle Hyde, a family nurse practitioner within our School-Based Health Program was named New York State’s 2019 “HPV Vaccine is Cancer Prevention Champion” by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC for her successful work in promoting the vaccine.

    February 2020 - Opened a fourth Community Health Center at Jefferson Community College providing medical and behavioral health services. The Health Center is open to both students and faculty on campus as well as individuals in the community.