February 1st, 2010

Federal funds to assist health centers

Sixteen New England community health centers will benefit from the nearly $600 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act awards that President Obama recently announced will fund renovation or construction projects at 85 centers nationwide.

The awards aim to provide care for more than half a million additional patients in underserved communities, in addition to creating jobs in construction and health care.

Lowell Community Health Center in Massachusetts received more than $9 million. Maura Smith, director of development and external relations, says the award will help renovate an historic vacant mill downtown.

“We will consolidate all of our operations, which are now located in multiple sites, into this one location,” Smith says. “It will allow us to expand our services by 30 percent.”

“It’s allowing us to expand primary care as well as the behavioral health services that we provide. It will allow us to better integrate them because they are in one setting.”

The center served about 9,000 people a decade ago, but now serves about 32,000 – one-third of the community. “So there is a huge need for the services we provide,” Smith adds.

The center has 37 exam rooms. After the expansion, it will have 85 exam rooms, which will allow it to serve another 10,000 to 12,000 patients per year,” according to Smith.

“I think we are such a great example of how the stimulus dollars can really meet a need that otherwise the funding would not be available to accommodate,” she says. “It will do what stimulus dollars are meant to do,” including creating 100 new jobs at the center and generating 198 temporary construction jobs.

Jack Donnelly, executive director of the Community Health Center of Burlington in Vermont, says the nearly $11 million his organization received will replace the center’s current structure. “The new building will be about twice as large as the current structure so we’re able to increase medical, dental and behavioral health services for our patients,” he says.

“We typically have a backlog trying to get patients in. We have pretty much used every square inch of the current building for something or another. We’re doing blood collection in what used to be a closet, for example.”

Donnelly says award recipients have two years to complete the funded projects. “It’s a very aggressive schedule for this size project but the whole purpose of the award is to spur job growth,” he says, estimating that his center’s project will add about 40-50 jobs – some related to construction but others which are ongoing skilled jobs as a result of the expansion.

Avis Goodwin Community Health Center in Dover, N.H., which provides integrated medical, mental and oral heath care to more than 8,000 individuals, received nearly $5 million.

Janet Atkins, executive director, says the center is spread out at four locations, over about 23,000 square feet. “And we have run out of space,” she says.

“During the past few years, we have converted bathrooms into medication rooms, medication rooms into offices and finally we combined a closet and a bathroom so that we could add an additional mental health counselor,” Atkins says. “The recession combined with our new integrated mental health program has doubled our new patient admissions each month.”

With the award, the center will consolidate all of the locations to a new, environmentally friendly site, allowing for a projected savings of $200,000 annually. In addition, the almost 30,000-square-foot facility will allow the center to expand all three programs and care for an additional 3,000 patients.

“Without ARRA funding, we would have had a difficult time patching together a financial plan that would enable us to build,” Atkins says.

New England grant recipients are:

Connecticut: Charter Oak Health Center, $10 million; and Community Health Services, $6,160,675.

Maine: Bucksport Regional Health Center, $2,459,420; and Sacopee Valley Health Center, $802,951.

Massachusetts: Dorchester House Multi-Service Center, $7,024,029; East Boston Neighborhood Health Center, $12 million; HealthFirst Family Care Center, $12 million; Community Health Connections, $10,732,754; Lowell Community Health Center, $9,351,067; Mattapan Community Health Center, $11,550,000; Greater New Bedford Community Health Center, $5,331,145; Whittier Street Health Committee, $12 million.

New Hampshire: Avis Goodwin Community Health Center, $4,957,300; Ammonoosuc Community Health Services, $2,641,157; and Lamprey Health Care, $2,150,250.

Vermont: Community Health Center of Burlington, $10,964,476.

By Pamela Berard

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