Health clinics benefit from stimulus and health dollars

    Federal health officials visited a community health center in Wilmington today to highlight the flood of federal funds coming to these clinics.

    Community health centers frequently operate under tight budgets; but new government funds are allowing these clinics to expand and renovate. Federal health officials toured a center in Wilmington today, and WHYY’s health and science reporter Kerry Grens tagged along.

    WestSide Family Healthcare is typical of community health centers: most of its patients are low income, and most are uninsured. Its medical, dental, nutritional and counseling services are discounted and sometimes free. Despite that doomed business model, WestSide opened a new center in Bear and added office space at its Wilmington clinic.

    Lolita Lopez, Westside’s CEO, showed off the new wing to federal health officials.

    As we grew over the years and got more comprehensive with our supportive services we found that we didn’t have any place to put anyone. All we had was exam rooms. So having offices for nutritionists and managers and nurse managers and prenatal case managers and social workers, that became problematic for this building.

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    Several million dollars in stimulus funds paid for the expansion. And there’s more to come: the new health care insurance law allocates funding to preventive and public health programs, says Caya Lewis, the chief of staff for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

    A big piece of that is what’s included for community health centers over the next five years in the Affordable Care Act.

    The government will provide $11 billion to shore up services at health clinics across the US over the next several years. Lewis says Washington is relying on health centers to provide for many of the millions of additional people who will be required to have health insurance. That’s because about half those people will enroll in Medicaid — and community health centers are primary clinics for Medicaid patients.

    Lewis: I think community health centers are going to be crucial because they provide affordable, sometimes free care but also care to populations that are more vulnerable. And we know for our Medicaid population it’s people that are low income and may have many challenges.

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