Caduceus and Money
Image Courtesy FlickrCreative Commons, nffcnnr

Uninsured and low income patients will get a little more access to health care, thanks to some money released by fed last week.

By Rose Hoban

Community health centers around North Carolina are on the receiving end of $11.4 million in federal dollars to repair, improve, and build several much-needed health centers (see table below).

“While those grants were helpful, they aren’t addressing the complete need we have for capital improvement,” said Ben Money, head of the NC Community Health Center Association. “And given the number of people we continue to see who are uninsured, there continues to be an increased demand for community health centers.”

Piedmont Health Services main building in Carrboro, Photo courtesy Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce

According to the latest numbers from the NC Institute of Medicine, North Carolina has about 1.3 million adults under the age of 65 who lack any health insurance, a total of 23.6 percent of adults from the ages of 18-64. (The IOM calculated their totals from the most recent US Census data.)

About 300,000 more North Carolina adults are uninsured than at the start of the economic downturn in 2008.

Brian Toomey, head of Piedmont Health Services, said community health centers are some of the most efficient providers of care.

“We can take care of someone for an entire year for less than $500, including their medications,” Toomey said. “That’s $300-$400 cheaper than one emergency department visit. And people come to us on an average of 3-4 times a year.”

Toomey’s organization received half a million dollars to renovate one of their six locations, a building in rural Alamance County that Toomey says is more than 85 years old.

“It’ll allow us to upgrade and do repairs,” Toomey said about the Burilngton clinic that sees 6,000 patients annually.

“We were going to have to decide whether we could afford the repairs. If this money had not come through, I’m not sure we could have stayed in that location,” Toomey said.

Politics impede growth

Both Toomey and Money bemoaned the political climate in Washington that’s stymied the ability of community health centers to serve more people.

Money said the state Institute of Medicine estimates 1.1 million North Carolinians will be newly eligible for Medicaid in 2014 if the federal health care reform law survives it’s current challenge in the Supreme Court, and the election this fall.

Money explained that in the Affordable Care Act, passed in 2010, Congress created an $11 billion trust fund to be spent on community health centers over the course of 5-6 years. The goal was to double the number of patients served by centers around the country.

“By 2014, there would be a sufficient amount of capacity to meet the new needs,” Money said. “But the legs got cut out from under it.”

As a result of political fights in Congress in the wake of the 2010 mid-term elections, $600 million in annual appropriations to community health centers has been eliminated.

“The demand continues to increase exponentially and the financial support comes in in dribbles and with uncertainty,” Toomey said. “That’s making it incredibly challenging to take care of people who need to be taken care of.”

The federal Health Resources and Services Administration has made up that money by taking from the community health center trust fund, leaving few dollars to create new health centers. Money said only 67 new centers have been created nationwide, instead of the 250 new centers originally planned.

“That was one of the ways that folks who didn’t like Obamacare could undermine it,” Money said, “by taking away base funding, by taking away the trust fund.”

Grantee OrganizationCity CountyAward
Immediate Facility Improvement Grant Awards
Piedmont Health Services, Inc.CarrboroOrange$500,000.00
The C.W. Williams Community Health Center, Inc.CharlotteMecklenburg$500,000.00
Goshen Medical Center, Inc.FaisonDuplin$500,000.00
Rural Health Group, Inc.Roanoke RapidsHalifax$500,000.00
Stedman-Wade Health Services, Inc.WadeCumberland$200,028.00
Building Capacity Grant Awards
West Caldwell Health Council, Inc.CollettsvilleCaldwell$568,934.00
Goshen Medical Center, Inc.FaisonDuplin$4,550,000.00
Rural Health Group, Inc.Roanoke RapidsHalifax$577,320.00
Carolina Family Health Centers, Inc.WilsonWilson$3,507,460.00

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Rose Hoban is the founder and editor of NC Health News, as well as being the state government reporter. Hoban has been a registered nurse since 1992, but transitioned to journalism after earning degrees...