Recovery Act Funding Targets Health Centers

by Candi Helseth

Dr. Mary Wakefield

Dr. Mary Wakefield, Health Resources and Services Administration Administrator, says that Recovery Act funds can be used for capital improvements and adding staff at rural clinics.

Goshen Medical Center in Faison, N.C., normally functions in relative obscurity, meeting the needs of a largely poor, rural population. But this spring, the clinic was thrust into the public eye when Vice President Joe Biden visited the clinic with U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) Administrator Dr. Mary Wakefield.

There, Biden announced that Goshen Medical Center would receive $635,876 from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). About $2 billion of the $787 billion federal stimulus package is being allocated nationwide to community health centers like Goshen.

“In the entire country, there are 7,000 clinics like Faison’s, and they serve 17 million people a year,” Wakefield said. “Most of these patients live in poverty. Another 40 percent have no health insurance. A million are homeless. Another million are farm workers. One-third are children.”

Sixty-seven percent of Goshen’s patients, which are from Duplin County and adjoining eastern Sampson and southern Wayne counties, are uninsured or covered by Medicare or Medicaid. Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) like Goshen operate with the assistance of federal funds awarded by HRSA. One of every 19 people in the United States seeks primary care from an HRSA-funded clinic, making these health centers the largest primary care network in the United States. By law, HRSA health centers must serve everyone and provide equal quality of care regardless of ability to pay, Wakefield said.

To date, $500 million of Recovery Act funds have been distributed to support 126 new health center sites and help increase services at existing sites to support spikes in demand from uninsured populations. Funds are expected to stimulate the creation of additional jobs and add to the number of clinicians and other staff working at health centers. According to Wakefield, the remaining $1.5 billion of the Recovery Act funding dedicated to health centers will go to “pressing capital improvement needs, such as construction, repair, renovation and equipment purchases, including the acquisition of health information technology.”

HRSA also received $500 million under ARRA for health care professions programs—approximately $300 million of which will go the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) to increase the primary care workforce in rural and underserved areas. Finding qualified personnel in these areas is an ongoing challenge, Wakefield said, adding, “20 mostly rural states report workforce shortages.” With its funding, Goshen Medical Center plans to add two more physicians, two more nurses and three administrative staff members.

The remaining $200 million of ARRA funds will be directed toward support training in health care professions programs. Wakefield said NHSC and health professionals programs are in place to help increase the number of primary care clinicians. The President’s budget for fiscal year 2010 also proposes funding for additional health care professions programs to increase both the number of students in professional programs and the number of providers practicing in rural areas.

“Recovery Act funds may be used to hire local help, and we certainly encourage folks from rural areas who want to train in the health professions to get the education they need to provide primary care,” Wakefield said. “It is much more likely that practitioners will stay to work in rural areas if they enjoy the setting and are familiar with the lifestyle.”

HRSA will monitor and assess the success of ARRA-funded projects as well as providing technical assistance to assure that health centers are in compliance with program rules and achieving expected outcomes. Recovery Act Community Health Centers program funding is limited to FQHCs, so other non-federally supported health centers are not eligible for this particular funding, Wakefield noted.

Additional information about the Recovery Act Community Health Center program is online at http://www.hhs.gov/recovery/hrsa/healthcentergrants.html (No longer available online). Other Recovery Act funding has been announced, and new funding will continue to be announced on these websites: Recovery.Gov and HHS.Gov/Recovery. (No longer available online)


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