Major grant and ISU Bengal Pharmacy boost health services in Challis

CHALLIS – Residents of this remote central Idaho community will have improved access to primary health care services, thanks to a $1.19 million grant awarded to the North Custer Hospital District and the opening of Bengal Pharmacy, a full-service telepharmacy that will serve Challis and the surrounding region.

“The grant and Bengal Pharmacy are a big win for rural health care and the people of our community,” said Sharlene Miller, hospital district administrator.

Challis celebrated the boost in health services during a community event Sept. 22, highlighted with remarks by federal, local, state and university leaders.

ISU President Arthur Vailas (center in orange shirt) and Bengal Pharmacy team at grand opening in Challis. From left: Gene Hoge, Arlo Luke, ISU Foundation; Rex Force, Bengal Pharmacy;  Kent Tingey, Advancement; Paul Cady, Emily Edwards, Carla Green, Chris Owens, College of Pharmacy.

ISU President Arthur Vailas (center in orange shirt) and Bengal Pharmacy team at grand opening in Challis. From left: Gene Hoge, Arlo Luke, ISU Foundation; Rex Force, Bengal Pharmacy; Kent Tingey, Advancement; Paul Cady, Emily Edwards, Carla Green, Chris Owens, College of Pharmacy.

The grant—known as a New Access Point Award—is from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) and will cover a 22-month period, which began in August. The funding will enable the Challis Area Health Center—the community’s only primary and urgent care facility—to hire more mid-level providers and expand services to include mental health and dental care, Miller said.

The grant also means the Challis Area Health Center will operate as a federally designated community health center and become a member of the Idaho Primary Care Association.

“It’s exciting to welcome Challis to the health center family,” said Yvonne Ketchum-Ward, chief executive officer of the Idaho Primary Care Association, an association that partners with Idaho’s 16 federally designated community health centers to provide high quality primary care.

“Idaho’s Community Health Centers enrich communities across the state by providing patient-centered primary health care that lowers costs and improves health outcomes,” she added, noting community health centers served more than 156,000 patients in 2014.

The grant award comes on the heels of the recent opening of Bengal Pharmacy next to the Challis Area Health Center. Owned by the Idaho State University Foundation and operated in partnership with the College of Pharmacy, Bengal Pharmacy utilizes a sophisticated telecommunications and video network, enabling ISU pharmacists to fill prescriptions and consult with patients remotely.

“The connection between rural primary care and pharmacy services, from economic, educational and access-to-care perspectives, cannot be overemphasized. This is a win-win-win for the clinic, ISU and the citizens of Custer County,” said Rex Force, a member of Bengal Pharmacy’s managing board.

Bengal Pharmacy, LLC, and the North Custer Hospital District, which owns the Challis Area Health Center, partnered after Challis’s only pharmacy was about to close, forcing residents to travel 60 miles to the nearest full-service pharmacy.

“This is a huge relief for our community,” said Kate Taylor, the Challis Area Health Center administrator. “The HRSA grant and Bengal Pharmacy ensure we’ll not only be able to provide vital primary care services, but sustain them for years to come.”