OSKALOOSA — After serving more than 600 patients in Mahaska County since its opening in 2000, River Hills Community Health Center will set up shop in Oskaloosa.
The health center will acquire Dr. Ronda Dennis-Smithart’s Pediatric & Young Adult Clinic on July 1. The new clinic will be open to the public beginning July 13.
“Ever since we opened in November of 2000, we’ve never had a physical presence [in Mahaska County] as far as a clinic, so we were excited about the opportunity to potentially become physically located in Mahaska County and Oskaloosa,” says Rick Johnson, CEO of River Hills Community Health Center. “This opportunity presented itself, and we decided to move forward with it. Our board of directors is very supportive also.”
The health center will continue to provide pediatric services as River Hills Community Health Center – Mahaska County Clinic. Johnson says they will retain all staff and providers at Dr. Dennis-Smithart’s clinic.
“There will obviously be some new things we do that a private practice doesn’t do, like our patient registration system, which is a little more involved than what private practices do,” says Johnson. “But from a patients’ perspective, we’re going to try to make sure this is as seamless as possible for them.”
While other medical clinics throughout the state are experiencing the threat of closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic, River Hills continues to expand their services throughout southeast Iowa. For now, the new clinic will primarily provide pediatric services. However, Johnson says they plan to offer additional services in the future, including dental and behavioral health.
“We’re looking at adding behavioral health services sometime this fall and dental next year, probably in the summer,” says Johnson.
As a federally-qualified community health center, River Hills tries to offer multiple services under one roof, says Johnson. The health center also offers general medical and women’s health services in other locations.
The health center has clinics in four of their eight service counties, including Wapello, Appanoose, Keokuk and now Mahaska. Their services reach 13 communities in addition to four other counties, including Monroe, Davis, Jefferson and Van Buren. Johnson says Mahaska is their second largest service county.
Johnson hopes River Hills will eventually have a clinic in all of its eight service counties.
“There are multiple health care organizations in all of these counties in southeast Iowa, and I think it’s good that patients have a choice of where they want to seek their health care,” says Johnson. “I have no reason to believe River Hills will not continue to thrive and continue to expand over the next 10-20 years. We’ve got a good base established.”
Johnson says the health center’s goal is and always has been to offer affordable, quality health care to the entire community, including those without insurance. The health center sets itself apart from privately-owned clinics by providing a sliding scale fee for uninsured patients. Providers are also credentialed with all private insurance companies.
“There’s always a perception that community health centers are only a place to go if you don’t have insurance or if you’re on Medicaid,” says Johnson. “Those are important populations that we do serve. However, we’ve always tried to emphasize we are a community health center, so we’re here for the entire community.”
The health center will be partnering with Mahaska Health for stat labs and radiology, and Johnson hopes to continue to find other ways to partner with community agencies in Oskaloosa.
“I think it’s really important to establish community partnerships in the counties where we do have clinics,” says Johnson. “We’re not all about River Hills just doing everything on our own. We know that you need to partner with other agencies and organizations, and we definitely plan to do that in the next year and try to see what other gaps in care we can help provide citizens in Mahaska County.”