has been a touchstone in Washtenaw County since 1973, offering health care services on a sliding scale to anyone who needs them. But the organization had long outgrown its original space at 3174 Packard Rd. in Ann Arbor.
"The space crunch became really acute in the two years before COVID hit," says Dr. Ray Rion, Packard Health's executive director. "We had people literally working in closets. The conference room became the workspace for five or six staff. The building was constructed in the '70s. Things have changed a lot since then."
Now, thanks to an $8 million capital campaign launched in 2018, the health center has moved its main office to 2650 Carpenter Rd. in Pittsfield Township. Formerly the site of a AAA branch, Packard Health purchased the building in 2019, just before the pandemic hit. Construction to transform the space from an open layout into one that includes exam rooms and private offices began in early 2021, and the new location opened its doors to patients in August.
The new site has allowed Packard Health to expand its services. In addition to space for primary care, there's now an on-site lab so that patients can give blood draws right in the office, as well as space for a potential pharmacy. And there is more room for behavioral health and addiction treatment — the need for which has skyrocketed during the pandemic, says Rion.
In 2015, Packard Health became a Federally Qualified Health Center
"It really stabilized our operating performance, and it enabled us to fundraise around expansion and capital projects," Rion says.
FQHCs can provide dental care, notes Rion, which is something Packard Health will consider down the road as well.
Part of the capital campaign includes a nearly $3 million real estate gift from Dick and Norma Sarns — a building on Venture Drive in Ann Arbor that now serves as Packard Health's administrative headquarters. The next phase of the organization's expansion will involve adding behavioral health and primary health care services at that site. In the future, Rion hopes to offer wellness services too, like nutritional support and exercise programs.
Rion stresses that Washtenaw County is "extremely lucky" to have two excellent health systems, but that many people still "fall through the cracks" when it comes to health care.
"It may be economic, or it may be that they don't have insurance. It may be that they are struggling with a constellation of social and medical factors that make it difficult for them to access services in a more standard practice," says Rion.
In Rion's words, the mission of Packard Health has always been "trying to meet people where they are."
"To me the crux is serving people who don't fit in well with health systems, or get good services through health systems," he says. "That's really what our place in the community is."
Jeanne Hodesh is a freelance writer based in Ann Arbor, where she covers small business, food, and culture. She holds an MFA from Hunter College. Her essays and articles have appeared in Lenny Letter, The Hairpin, and Time Out New York, among other publications.
Photo courtesy of Packard Health.