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Cash rolling in to health centers

By Carol Gentry
7/10/2009 © Health News Florida

Almost $69 million in federal stimulus money has been pumped into Florida’s community health centers so far this year, and there may be more to come, according to federal documents. The cash should enable the centers to raise the number of patients served from 852,000 to about 1 million.

More than half of it, $41 million, was awarded just last week for 44 community health centers throughout the state. The two-year grants will pay for expansion, renovation, upgraded equipment, and staff to see more patients.

The amounts ranged from $250,000 for Citrus County and an AIDS program in Miami to $2.5 million for community health service programs in Miami and Manatee County. See the list at this Web site.

”Isn’t it great?” said Linda Snyder, grants director for Manatee County Rural Health Services in Parrish, which serves three counties. With the $1.2 million that the non-profit received in March, Manatee will be able to add 4,500 patients to the current caseload of 81,500, she said, and increase patient visits from 358,000 a year to 413,000.

The size of Florida health centers’ cash infusion from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 has been obscured by the way in which the grants have been announced. Members of Congress have been allowed to make the announcements in their home districts, as Rep. Kathy Castor did in St. Petersburg last week. Some of the grant announcements have received a lot of attention, while others have gone virtually unnoticed.

The funds are coming from the Health Resources and Services Administration. Spokesman David Bowman said HRSA received $2 billion under the recovery act for health centers. In November, he said, the agency is expected to announce another round of grants – a smaller number of larger awards to complete major construction and renovation projects.

So far, there have been three types of grant awards.

The first, called New Access Point grants, brought $10.1 million to Florida centers that had been approved for projects that went unfunded in 2008. Those grants were aimed at increasing by 35,720 the number of patients served and producing 265 jobs, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

The clinics that received New Access Point grants in Florida are:

--Bond Community Health Association in Tallahassee, $1.1 million

--Broward Community and Family Health Centers, Pompano Beach, $1.3 million

--Citrus County Health Department, Lecanto, $1.3 million

--Community AIDS Resource, dba Care Resource, Miami, $1.3 million

--Escambia Community Clinics in Pensacola, $1.3 million

--Heart of Florida Health Center, Ocala, $1.3 million

--Pancare of Florida, dba CHC-Bay County, in Panama City, $1.3 million

--Premier Community Healthcare Group in Dade City, $1.2 million

The second infusion of cash, Increased Demand for Services grants, went to 43 Florida centers and totaled $17.6 million. The centers had forecast they would produce or retain 255 jobs and serve more than 100,000 new patients, most of them uninsured.

The Increased Demand funds and the ones announced last week, Capital Improvement Program grants, were limited to what are called “federally qualified” health centers. Nearly all of them are members of Florida Association of Community Health Centers, based in Tallahassee.

Andrew Behrman, president and CEO of the association, says the funds are coming at a crucial time when the state budget is down and the numbers of unemployed and uninsured are growing. "These funds are a part of the necessary relief to an already overburdened system," he said.

FACHC data for last year say member centers provide primary and preventive care for about 852,000 Floridians who made 3.2 million visits. Half were uninsured. Many of the rest were covered by Medicaid, but some had insurance so limited they could not afford the deductibles or co-pays. Community health centers charge patients on a sliding scale based on income.

--Carol Gentry can be reached at 727-410-3266 or by e-mail.