At a time when the growing number of uninsured patients is straining community health centers’ budgets, federal stimulus funding is helping those clinics in Tennessee and Georgia retain staff and expand operating hours.
Community health centers, which provide health care to underserved communities and often receive little or no payment from patients, struggle financially, program directors say. As the economic recession leaves more Americans without jobs or health insurance, the need for subsidized health care is growing.
“Community health centers have really been squeezed,” said Kathy Wood-Dobbins, chief executive officer of the nonprofit Tennessee Primary Care Association. The association’s members are mainly federally funded health centers.
Staff Photo by Allison Kwesell Dr. Peggy Emberson, left, works on Darlene Underwood's teeth while Dani Pettyjohn assists at the Primary Health Care Center in Rossville, Ga. Federally qualified community health centers in Tennessee and Georgia will receive $6.5 and $7, respectively, from the federal stimulus package.
“These dollars have really helped them be able to keep staff and to add some jobs, as well,” she said.
Over the next two years, community health centers are expected to create or retain 6,400 health care jobs with the help of the stimulus money, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The stimulus includes $6.5 million for Tennessee and $7 million for Georgia. An upcoming round of stimulus funds for the centers will go toward building renovations, electronic medical records and equipment updates.
The Southside and Dodson Avenue Community Health Centers in Chattanooga will use $286,579 in stimulus funding to hold onto a part-time pediatrician, a licensed practical nurse, a medical assistant and an interpreter, Executive Director Bill Hicks said in an e-mailed statement.
The Chattanooga-Hamilton County Homeless Health Care Center, part of the local health department and a qualified community health center, used the $193,852 it received to retain a case manager and add a part-time physician and nurse, project director Karen Guinn said.
This initial round of grants is intended to help shore up staffing and services to handle increasing numbers of patients, said Steve Miracle, CEO of the Georgia Mountains Health Services. The nonprofit operates community health services in four Georgia cities, including Chatsworth.
His center will use $226,000 to expand its hours and add a case manager position, he said.
Directors say that without access to safety net programs such as the health centers, many people would go without needed health care and their ailments could progress into much more serious — and more costly — conditions.
In hard economic times, health care often falls by wayside, said Diana Allen, CEO of Primary Health Care Center, a nonprofit that has clinics in Trenton and Rossville in Georgia. The center received $200,000 in stimulus money.
“It’s a matter of priorities,” Ms. Allen said. “If they’re facing foreclosure on their home and they can’t pay their rent or they can’t buy their groceries, health care is not at the top of their list of priorities, understandably.”
Health care reporter Emily Bregel has worked at the Chattanooga Times Free Press since July 2006. She previously covered banking and wrote for the Life section. Emily, a native of Baltimore, Md., earned a bachelor’s degree in American Studies from Columbia University. She received a first-place award for feature writing from the East Tennessee Society of Professional Journalists’ Golden Press Card Contest for a 2009 article about a boy with a congenital heart defect. She ...