Dr. John Bentley is right at home at Jordan Valley Community Health Center. And now, his name is on the building.
A founding doctor of the federally qualified health center, Bentley’s family, friends and colleagues recognized his 50 years of practicing medicine with a June 26 reception christening the John D. Bentley, M.D., Center for Health and Wellness.
Several days later, Jordan Valley officials began moving caregivers – and Bentley’s office – into the Bentley Center, a 30,000-square-foot building on the south side of the center city clinic.
Truth be told, it’s not the first time a Jordan Valley clinic adopted Bentley’s name. When the health center moved into the former Kearney Street library in 2005, it also was adorned with the Bentley Center moniker.
“When we sold it, they took all that signage down,” he says. “I still have all those letters in my garage now, in a couple, three boxes.”
Though Bentley’s involvement with Jordan Valley for all of its 11 years is only a fraction of his medical career, the federally qualified health center model fits him like a glove.
“I think everybody is entitled to health care,” he says. “It doesn’t have to be fancy health care.”
The clinic is built on this precept. From inception, Jordan Valley was designed to care for individuals without insurance and those with inadequate insurance, as well as some well-insured patients. Through the U.S. Public Health Service Act, federally qualified health centers received enhanced reimbursements from Medicare and Medicaid.
Through its $10 million project, though, Jordan Valley is raising the bar on what that care looks like.
The addition at 440 E. Tampa St. creates a 105,000-square-foot campus under one roof, offering primary care, women’s health, pediatrics, geriatrics and oral health. The project, half funded by a $5 million federal grant, is expected to be fully complete in the fall.
“We want to become a medical home for everybody,” Bentley says citing recent additions of prenatal, ophthalmology and behavioral health services.
His efforts, along with CEO Brooks Miller and the board of directors, have created a community of collaboration. With a history of working with local schools, Jordan Valley is partnering with Burrell Behavioral Health and Walgreens for an on-site pharmacy.
What started with fewer than 10 employees now has nearly 300 staff members, over 3,600 active patients, clinics in Marshfield, Republic and Hollister, and operating revenue of $24.5 million. Bentley says he never imagined such results: “I had no idea.”
While Springfield’s community health center launched in 2003, its formations began, for Bentley, during the course of a career.
Alongside his work in a private internal medicine practice and on the staff of a hospital system, Bentley was a 20-year volunteer for The Kitchen Clinic. He helped administer health care to uninsured vagabonds, most staying at the Missouri Hotel.
“It was frustrating because we couldn’t see very many patients,” he recalls. “It was all free. We were turning people away.”
Discontent, he began asking how the group, led by Sister Lorraine Biebel, could see more than 15 patients a day. Around the same time, he started hearing about grants available for community health centers. He, Biebel and about 10 others, including former Springfield-Greene County Health Department Director Harold Bengsch and the presidents of the city’s hospitals, formed the Advocates for a Healthy Community committee to study grant applications.
Pile that on top of a tarnished view of large health system care, and Bentley was ready for a change. Mercy already had bought out his practice, the Clinic of Internal Medicine, along with a slew of others in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
“It became a little difficult to work for a hospital after you’d been in private practice,” Bentley says of his time with Mercy, including a stint as chief of staff. “They began to clamp down on the doctors. They looked at your books, decided how much you were going to get paid – it was a good time for us. The grant came through, and we were going to start this clinic. And that’s when I said I want to retire from the hospital practice and just do this.”
Miller came on as CEO from a community health center in Kirksville. With a $1 million grant as seed money, Bentley credits Miller for structuring the vision.
“His vision was always 10 times more than, I guess, mine was. He saw the need for pediatrics and expanding dental services, and we needed OB-GYN,” he says. “I was along for the ride.”
Bentley, who has worked as Jordan Valley’s medical director, now sees 15 to 20 patients a day and reports to the office three or four days a week.
In dealing with his contemporaries, Bentley says understanding the mission remains a challenge. Area physicians continue to ask him: Are you still working at that free clinic?
“It’s not a free clinic,” he says. “It’s a clinic for people who need medical care. It still carries the handle, so to speak, of The Kitchen Clinic. I spend some time talking to my more conservative friends [about] how important it is for medicine to be available for everyone, and it’s OK that it’s a government-sponsored medical clinic.
“This is government medicine at its best, I think.”