North Country Children's Clinic was founded in 1971 by a group of volunteers led Dr. George Sturtz and staff released from health and human service agencies including Dick Charles who would become the agency’s first Executive Director. The organization was created to fill a void in pediatric health care when a community survey found that many North Country children were not visiting a doctor between leaving the hospital at birth and entering school. Families might seek emergency care, but because of a lack of transportation and insurance coverage, their children were not receiving regular well care – including immunizations and physical assessments to catch and treat problems early.
North Country Children’s Clinic created an innovative model that provided well-care in local communities using a network of volunteers and staff released from health facilities and non-profit agencies. The model was so successful that within three years, it had expanded to provide care to children across Jefferson, Lewis, Franklin and St. Lawrence Counties. In 1974 the agency sought and obtained one of the first WIC programs in the nation to supplement its health care offerings with nutritious foods to promote growth and development.
North Country Children’s Clinic’s founding principal of offering all children quality healthcare, regardless of their family’s income, remains the agency’s foundation today. The Children’s Clinic provides care for working families who find health care a luxury they struggle to afford and also sees many families who are covered by private insurance. These families choose our practice because they value the quality of our care. Their confidence is testimony to our success. We combine quality, empathy and access in an atmosphere that welcomes children and families from all walks of life. Our mission and our values make us a model for patient-centered care in the 21st century.
The first Well Child Clinic was held on October 12, 1971 at the North Side Improvement League, a donated site in Watertown. Volunteer and released public health nurses and doctors provided health care while teaching families how to help their children grow up healthy. The premise was that prevention, early detection and parenting education would ultimately result in lowered health care costs and, of course, healthier children.
The Well Child Program quickly expanded, at the invitation of outlying communities in the rural areas of Jefferson County and then St. Lawrence, Lewis, and Franklin Counties. By early 1974, there were seventeen licensed, part-time clinic sites serving over 2,000 children. The Campaign for Human Development, the Watertown Foundation, the Regional Medical Program, the Community Action Planning Council, health departments, and hospitals funded or staffed this innovative program.
In 1974, North Country Children's Clinic sought and obtained the Women's, Infant's and Children's Nutrition Program (WIC), one of the first in the nation. The United States Department of Agriculture paid for infant formula, milk, eggs, and cereal for eligible participants. The WIC program began modestly with a caseload of 200 infants, children and pregnant women across all four counties and an operating budget of less than $100,000. Today, thousands of participants benefit from nutritious foods, nutrition advice and counseling, and breastfeeding support.
September 11, 1989, the Children’s Clinic opened a Pediatric Medical Program (Primary Care) in the City of Watertown. Pediatricians and nurse practitioners see patients, from birth to 21 years, for wellness, common childhood illnesses and injuries, regardless of a families’ ability to pay. Children’s Clinic pediatricians have been on staff at Samaritan Medical Center since 1995, to provide inpatient care. Parents and guardians of Children’s Clinic patients have 24-hour access to medical staff through an on-call system. Expanded hours ensure that parents don’t need to take time off from work and don’t have to visit the hospital emergency rooms for primary care needs. The New York State Department of Health, the New York State Legislature, and the Northern New York Community Foundation provided start-up funds for the Watertown Primary Care Program.
On May 6, 1991, the Children’s Clinic opened its first dental clinic at the Mercy Care Center in Watertown, designed to serve the low-income population in the northern counties of New York State.
In October 1993, the Children’s Clinic added Mental Health counseling to the services available to our Primary Care patients in Watertown. A Clinical Psychologist works closely with medical staff to ensure the best possible outcome for patients.
In December 1993, the Children's Clinic opened its first school-based health center at North Elementary School in the Watertown City School District. Children from the district’s five elementary schools also used the new service, with transportation provided between schools by the district.
In January of 1994, the NCCC Watertown Dental Program opened a school-based site at Watertown High School. This was the first program in NY State to have a part-time dentist on-site to provide treatment and preventive care. A dental hygienist is also available for preventive care. Start-up funds for this program came from the E.J. Noble Foundation and in-kind donations from the Watertown School District.
In the fall of 1996, we opened our second school-based health center at Watertown High School.
In April 1997, we opened our third school-based health center at Case Junior High School with start up funds from the Northern New York Community Foundation.
In 1999 and 2000, the Children’s Clinic raised $77,000 for the start-up and operation of a dental clinic in the Village of Lowville. Lewis County Public Health, the Lewis County Legislature, the Pratt Northam Foundation and the Northern New York Community Foundation awarded these funds. The Lowville Clinic opened on July 6, 2000. The Children’s Clinic dental programs employ NYS licensed dentists, hygienists, and dental assistants at each site.
In December 2002, the Children’s Clinic opened a fourth school-based health center at the H.T. Wiley School. At the same time, staff moved the school-based Dental Clinic from overcrowded space at the high school to Wiley to better serve student body. All SBHC’s are staff by nurse practitioners, who work under the supervision of our pediatricians, and support staff. Students must be enrolled in the school based health program to utilize the clinics.
After years of planning, the Children’s Clinic bought the property at 238 Arsenal Street, Watertown, to house its community-based programs and administration after renovations and some new construction. Board, staff, and volunteers raised $2.2 million of the $2.8 million in project costs as of early 2005. Board, staff, and volunteers have exceeded the original Building for Healthy Tomorrows campaign goal of $2 million toward project costs of $2.8 million.
In mid-October 2005, the Children’s Clinic’s community-based programs moved from Empsall Plaza and Mercy Care to their new permanent home at 238 Arsenal Street, Watertown.
In 2006, The Children’s Clinic’s dental program at 238 Arsenal Street was selected as the clinical training sit for a dental hygiene training program, operated jointly by Monroe and Jefferson Community Colleges.
Fall 2007, The Children’s Clinic expanded school-based health services to the South Jefferson School District, opening a school-based health center in Mannsville. Those services were expanded to include a stite at the Wilson Building in 2009. South Jefferson clinics provide mental health counseling and dental services to enrolled students as well as health care.
In 2010, the Children’s Clinic successfully tests and offers telepsychiatry services via a fiber-optic network connection with Upstate Medical Center.
Spring 2012, the Children’s Clinic was awarded Patiant Centered Medical Home status.
Summer 2012, The agency became a Federally Qualified Health Center and began the transition of changing our name to North Country Family Health Center, to more accurately reflect our intention to provide health care to adults as well as children.
October 2012 we opened our Adult Medical Care office at 238 Arsenal Street in Watertown.