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Central Mass. Awarded $5 Million To Revamp Community Health Centers

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

 

Thanks to new federal grants, community heath centers in Massachusetts will receive $33,716,628 to reach more patients, provide affordable service, and create more jobs in Central Mass. The money comes from the Affordable Care Act and will support the construction and renovation of more than 485 health center sites over the next two years.

Two local community healthcare providers – Family Health Center of Worcester and Community Health Connections in Fitchburg – received $5,000,000 and $396,344, respectively.

Family Health Center will be holding a press conference Thursday at 4:00 p.m. Rep. Jim McGovern will announce their awarded grant and their future plans for the money. Some of the money awarded to Community Health Connections will be spent adding an on-site pharmacy to their facility in Gardner and to increase the building’s energy efficiency.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius released the numbers today, and grantees estimate these awards will help them serve approximately 42,539 new patients.

“President Obama’s health care law is making community health centers in Massachusetts stronger,” said Secretary Sebelius. “For many Americans, community health centers are the major source of care that ranges from prevention to treatment of chronic diseases. This investment will expand our ability to provide high-quality care to millions of people while supporting good paying jobs in communities across the country.”

Need in the Area

The need for affordable healthcare in Central Mass. has been highlighted by high unemployment and low income in the area.

“It was a competitive grant, but it was just the strength of the proposal and the need in Central Mass. [that earned us the grant],” said Director of Special Projects Rick Swanson. He cited Gardner and Fitchburg as prime examples of these hardships. “This contributes to the growing need. In a bad economy it’s felt even more outside of the metro areas. That’s what community health services are all about – providing quality care regardless of their ability to pay.”

While healthcare reform is a highly debated subject in the state, Swanson says that while he’s happy to see more aid available to more patients, the need for a dependable facillity is increasing. Many other practices, he says, are unable to fit the bill, making community health centers all the more important.

“In Mass. with more people having insurance through healthcare reform – that’s great that they now have it, but they now need a medial home. Community health centers are accepting patients when a lot of other practices can’t. They’re not able to,” Swanson said. “No one gets turned away at community health centers. We help satisfy more demand created through healthcare reform.” Swanson added that this is an overall benefit to the healthcare system; with more people going to community health centers, less money is spent on costly visits to the emergency room.

Who Will See the Benefits

Swanson is looking forward to addition of an on-site pharmacy at Community Health Connections facility in Gardner, something only capable through the act’s grant funding.

“There’s the added convenience of having a pharmacy on site, and people can get low cost prescriptions more easily,” Swanson said. “Another one of the advantages of having a pharmacy on site is that it’s easier to do clinical pharmacy work where the pharmacy technician and the medical provider are all on the same page. That’s probably the main benefit that we will see from this grant.”

Energy efficiency, a better handicap entrance and walkway, and a more private waiting area are also improvements that the organization will see thanks to the recent funding.

“This is something we’ve wanted to do for a couple years. It’s definitely a big advantage and will help us take our service to the next level,” he said. Swanson said that the funding will also support jobs from contactors to staff supporting the project.

The funding will also increase the center’s ability to help more patients and will make providing quality care easier.

“Having a pharmacy on site eliminates barriers to providing care. It’s easier for people to get the care they need. Things such as language barriers and transportation barriers are less of a factor,” Swanson said. “All of these things were things that were necessary but we lacked the funding to do this. We got a grant from the city that will be contributing toward the pharmacy, but it wasn’t enough to do all of it. This makes it possible to leverage this project.”

Good Changes to Come

Executive Director of Health Care For All, Amy Whitcomb Slemmer, was also pleased with the news and is looking forward to seeing the grants put to good use.

“We’re very excited and pleased with this investment for the centers around Massachusetts. We know this will improve capacity and improve conditions in Massachusetts for customers,” she said. “Massachusetts is fortunate to have access to healthcare – 97% of people in Mass. have access to it. This investment will improve their ability to access quality care and will benefit the centers who are receiving part of the funding.”

Health Care For All is a national, state-based non-profit dedicated to advocating for affordable healthcare and accessibility.

“It’s cost effective and delivered at the community level. We’re pleased that the act includes federal funding investments,” Slemmer said. The Affordable Care Act will bring some changes to their organization as well. “There are changes coming. One thing we did in response was set up the Health Care Connector. People can shop for affordable care easily for their families. There will also be services and tax credits for microbusinesses coming through this act.”

Slemmer added that with the new act, individuals may be wondering what changes could be coming to their service and access. Health Care For All, the says that their organization is here to help provide the needed information.
 

 

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