In 1980, the primary care physician serving the Mad River Valley announced he was leaving his practice to teach at the University of Vermont. His announcement meant that the Valley would not have a primary health care provider to serve its approximately 5000 residents. This precipitated a grassroots community organizing effort to ensure that the Valley towns of Fayston, Moretown, Waitsfield and Warren would not be left without a doctor.
The Mad River Valley Health Center (MRVHC) was the product of this effort. The community realized that in order to attract physicians to the Valley, it was critical to find a way to relieve them of the burden of the heavy debt of starting up a practice. Community representatives of each of the four Valley towns developed the idea to buy the existing practice and building and turning it into a community run health center. The group grew to eventually include 12 citizens from the four towns, who formed the original Mad River Valley Health Center Board of Directors. The MRVHC was incorporated as a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation in January of 1981.
The original mission of the Mad River Valley Health Center was to provide a quality facility to insure the availability of local health care to residents of the Mad River Valley, neighboring towns and visitors.
In the spirit of a traditional New England barn raising, a fundraising campaign began in March of 1981 and raised more than $150,000 in two months to purchase the existing practice, including the home on Main Street, which housed the doctors’ office. In July 1981, the first patients were served at the new Mad River Valley Health Center.
From its inception in 1981, the Health Center underwent various changes, but remained in the original ranch house. In 1986, in part due to the complications and time commitment of dealing with medical administrative red tape, the Board of the Health Center decided to relinquish the medical practice to Dr. Francis Cook, one of the Center’s initial staff members, and operate the non-profit MRVHC and the Medical practice as separate entities. In 1996, the Health Center was designated as a Rural Health Clinic. The quality-of-care improvements to meet this government program, further enhanced the service available to Medicaid and Medicare patients. The Mad River Valley Health Center, Inc. remained the owner and operator of the building and leased the space to Dr. Cook for nearly 20 years.
The mission of the MRVHC, which was shared by Dr. Cook, was to serve as a primary care family practice providing health care to the Mad River community, neighboring towns, and visitors. During this period, in addition to providing direct care, Dr. Cook oversaw the entire practice, coordinating the care and referring patients when indicated.
During its first 20 years, the practice at the Mad River Valley Health Center served an estimated 70 to 80 percent of the population of the Mad River Valley. The presence of the practice at the Mad River Valley Health Center clearly had a positive influence on the health status of our community.
The original structure housing the MRVHC, while adequate for many years, was never ideal. During the 20 plus years of the MRVHC’s initial existence, the population of the Mad River Valley increased by 48 percent. Dr. Cook’s practice grew accordingly, hiring additional staff and increasing its hours of operation. While the original building and grounds were modified in response to increases in the patient load, the building was never expanded. Two surveys, conducted in 1996 and 1998 to sample consumer opinion, identified a need for internal changes to the building. Dr. Cook and the practice staff also identified a need for additional space.
In response to this need, the Board of the MRVHC, Inc. dedicated itself to constructing a new building on the existing site. The new building was designed to house expanded medical office space. It increased the amount of space from 1600 to 3400 square feet on the first floor for the exiting medical practice and was designed to be more accessible to the ambulance; the 3400 square feet on the second floor was designed to accommodate complementary health services. This medically up-to-date building was designed to fit into the streetscape of the historic Waitsfield Village area where it is currently located.
The Mad River Valley Health Center never had a substantial operating surplus and routinely used what surplus it did have over the years to fund health care for indigent patients. In 2003 the Board of Directors embarked upon a major capital campaign to raise the necessary funds required to build a new Mad River Valley Health Center facility. The goal was to raise sufficient funds to begin construction during 2004 in a building appropriately configured to provide the best family practice care available, while maintaining the character of the Historic Waitsfield Village.
The Capital Campaign initiated by the MRVHC looked to all elements of the communities served by the medical practice to support this important project. Major contributions were sought from individuals able to make significant leadership gifts and large donations were requested from area corporations and businesses. Grants were sought from local and national foundations. All users of the Health Center were asked to contribute whatever they could to the project. This capital campaign was very successful, and the end result was the construction of the current building on Old Colony Road.
Dr. Cook continued to operate his practice in the new facility until his retirement in 2016. Shortly prior to his retirement, Dr. Cook sold his practice to Central Vermont Medical Center but continued to practice as an employee of CVMC. CVMC became the primary tenant of the MRVHC in July of 2016 and continues to operate its practice there. In addition to the family practice run by CVMC, the MRVHC is home to three other providers: Hannah’s House, Three Moons Wellness, and Dr. Richard Davis. Click here for details about all the Health Center’s providers.
Most recently, during the height of the COVID pandemic, the Mad River Health Center Board of Directors, in coordination with the VT Department of Health, the Waterbury Ambulance Service, and the Waitsfield United Church of Christ, led the effort to establish a testing site in the Mad River Valley to relieve individuals of the need to travel to Berlin or Waterbury for testing. In addition to establishment of the testing site, the MRVHC collaborated with the VT Department of Health to acquire home COVID test kits to be distributed in several sites.