News & Features

New Director at Shepherd’s Hand Seeks to Fill Gaps in Services

Jennifer Hyatt says the free medical and dental clinic has adapted its model since Medicaid expansion

Jennifer Hyatt has taken over as executive director at Shepherd’s Hand, a free medical clinic in Whitefish that serves residents with limited financial means.

Hyatt replaces Shan Kingston, who took over as executive director in 2017 following the retirement of Meg Erickson, the clinic’s co-founder and longtime executive director. Hyatt has been involved with Shepherd’s Hand since 2004, first as a volunteer and later, beginning in 2016, as director of operations.

“I’m humbled and excited to lead this important organization into its next chapter,” Hyatt said.

Hyatt, who began Feb. 1, takes over at a time of transition for Shepherd’s Hand, as the clinic now serves as a primary care provider to fewer people because the state’s Medicaid expansion provided health coverage to so many lower-income residents. The number of patients seeking care was especially high during the recession.

“For a while, the need was so great that we became a primary health care provider for many,” Hyatt said. “Now we’re more of a portal to primary care.”

“We’re still providing medical and dental care to those in need,” she added, “ but we’re working more on connecting people coming through our doors to all the resources that are available and trying to expand that to looking at their needs more holistically.”

As Shepherd’s Hand adapts its model, Hyatt said she’s “grateful to have an enthusiastic board of directors and a dedicated staff.”

“Together, our goal is to collaborate closely with all stakeholders as we reimagine what is possible and evaluate new directions where we can make an impact in the Flathead Valley,” she said.

The board of directors says Hyatt is the right person to lead Shepherd’s Hand through the transition into the future.

“Her breadth of experience, deep commitment to service and strong relationships within our organization and throughout the community represent the very foundations of the compassionate mission of Shepherd’s Hand,” the board said in a press release.

Meg Erickson and her physician husband, Dr. Jay Erickson, established Shepherd’s Hand in 1995 as an outreach ministry of Christ Lutheran Church. The clinic became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in 2010, although Christ Lutheran Church continues to be a major supporter and hosts the clinic at its River Lakes Parkway location.

The clinic saw 13 people upon opening its doors. Within a few months, demand was so great that it had to turn people away, and in the years since it has established itself as a vital health care resource for lower-income residents throughout the valley.

“Shepherd’s Hand was established out of a desire to provide medical care for people in the Flathead Valley who are underserved,” the organization’s website states. “It was founded on the core belief that all people have value and should be treated with dignity.”

In 2010, the clinic added a community meal, followed by a wellness program in 2012 to address the needs of chronic patients and dental services in 2014.

The community meal is held every Monday evening at 5:30 p.m., except for major holidays, and is open to the public. The clinic then provides its dental and medical services every Monday beginning at 6 p.m.

Today, roughly 150 professional medical, dental and community volunteers power the clinic, wellness program and community meal, including providers, dentists, nurses, dental assistants and non-medical volunteers. There are four staff members, all part-time.

After the Monday evening medical and dental services, staff and volunteers follow up with patients throughout the week, assessing gaps in their services, connecting them to resources, discussing test results and more.

The clinic serves people who can’t access health care, are at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level and don’t qualify for other services. It partners with organizations such as the Whitefish Community Foundation, North Valley Hospital and Kalispell Regional Healthcare.

“As a longstanding nonprofit, we’ve built lasting bonds within our community,” Hyatt said. “We’re so grateful for our committed volunteers, our donors and our partners.”

Shepherd’s Hand is located at 5150 River Lakes Parkway in Whitefish. For more information, visit www.shepherdshand.com.

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