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New Children's Clinic exec braces for changes

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Only a month in her executive director post, Collene D. Alexander already has a three-year plan for the North Country Children's Clinic: become a federally qualified health center of distinction.

While there may not be such a federal title, Mrs. Alexander said she doesn't just want agency staff to simply skate by with standards.

“It's not enough for us to meet them,” she said. “I want to exceed them.”

The clinic announced June 21 that it received a $650,000 Department of Health and Human Services grant that will fund expansion of clinic operations, including the opening of a site in Lewis County. The grant will allow the clinic's site at 238 Arsenal St., Watertown, and the future Lewis County location to become federally qualified health centers. Already serving children's medical, dental and mental health needs, the clinic also will care for adults, regardless of ability to pay.

A day after the announcement was made, the clinic announced Mrs. Alexander as its next executive director. She took the post July 5, five days after former executive director Aileen G. Martin resigned.

With adult primary care, behavioral health and substance abuse services are required to be offered under a federally qualified health center, so the clinic also will eventually offer those services.

The addition of those services will not be possible without partnerships from community agencies, Mrs. Alexander said. She said she hopes to develop partnerships with agencies that could help the clinic carry out, and go above and beyond, its federal requirements. The Children's Clinic has already partnered with Family Counseling Service of Northern New York to share the leadership of Mrs. Alexander. She solely held the CEO position at Family Counseling Services until her employment at the Children's Clinic began last month, but now she shares her time between the two agencies.

“It's a partnership, and both boards have taken a leadership stance by doing this,” she said. “They'll continue to explore other potential partnerships.”

Mrs. Alexander said 80 percent of her time is spent at the Children's Clinic and 20 percent of her time is spent at Family Counseling Service. Sharing administration is working, and will continue to work, she said, so long as there is increased communications between the agencies. Family Counseling's operations director, Jennifer Meagher, has since assumed more responsibilities.

Mrs. Alexander said she remains focused on partnering with more agencies since partnerships increases both access to and quality of care for patients.

Throughout the next few weeks and months, she and the clinic staff will be busy learning more about becoming a federally qualified health center, as five agency leaders, including Mrs. Alexander, will travel to Washington, D.C., for training workshops.

Also, within 30 to 45 days, the adult primary clinic will be staffed and preparations will begin for an anticipated Oct. 1 opening.

As the clinic transforms into a federally qualified health center, Mrs. Alexander said, she will not lose sight of current programs, such as children's primary care, dental and mental health needs. She said the Women, Infants and Children's federal supplemental feeding program is also close to her heart because she was a WIC recipient many years ago.

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