Heidi Zemach for Seward City News
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius today announced awards of approximately $67 million to the nation’s federally-qualified health centers, including $19 million made available by the Affordable Care Act, to establish 32 new health service delivery sites across the United States. These new sites will increase access to preventive and primary health care to more than 130,000 additional people, Sebelius said in a press release.
“Health centers have a proven track record of success in providing high quality health care to those who need it most,” said Secretary Sebelius. “New health center sites in some of the neediest communities in the country will provide access to health care for individuals and families who otherwise may have lacked access to high quality, affordable and comprehensive primary care services.”
Unfortunately, Seward’s latest application for Federally Qualified Health Center status, was not among those approved. This was the second application to be submitted over the past two qualifying cycles by the Seward Community Health Clinic Board. Nor were any of the other Alaska submissions given FQHC status, said Suzanne Niemi, the Anchorage-based consultant Seward Community Health Board had hired to help improve its application.
Seward could have received up to $650,000 annually to operate the clinic, and some start-up funding to help implement a new clinic within the next 120 days. Turning the clinic over to a separate entity is considered desirable because Seward has a large underserved, underinsured and uninsured community, which the mandates of the FQHC clinic grant would be required to address. FQHC clinic clients also are reimbursed at a higher rate than they currently are, thus bringing in more money for the hospital.
Providence makes more money on its Emergency Room clients, said Seward Providence Director Joe Fong, speaking at past council meetings. A CHC clinic in Seward would replace the existing clinic, and enable Providence managers to focus on providing emergency care, which it does best, as well operating Seward Mountain Haven, the long-term elder care facility, he said.
Niemi encouraged Seward city council members and administrators today not to have the official announcement derail the process of establishing a federally-funded health clinic. The CHC Board of Directors is still working toward a CHC through the city budget process, added Councilmember Marianna Kiel. The Seward CHC will apply for another grant when the next cycle opens, and that the current grant application could still be funded if more funds are made available, she said.
The board’s former lead representative with Providence, Patty Beals, is no longer with Seward Providence Care Center, and the CHC board has made no public announcement about its status, which it had learned of more than two weeks ago.
Seward will learn of its application score and the number of points it got within the month, Niemi told the council members in an email today. HRSA will keep applications on file for a year, so Seward could be funded in the next round of funding in the current cycle, she added. The council still must decide which entity would be the employer for CHC clinic, the City of Seward, or another entity, she said. Niemi urged the council to continue to develop a retirement and benefits package for future clinic employees.
Without a well-established, long-term insurance history to become part of, such as the City’s own employee plan, prospective employees may be reluctant to join the clinic, based on her experience with startup CHCs, Neimi told the council at a work session earlier this year prior to submitting the application.
Seward Providence has been short-staffed this past summer with the recent departure of two of its three newest physicians. It has operated with temporary physicians, and the three remaining physicians, but has not yet not been able to hire their replacements, according to Providence.
Reporter’s Note: Providence Anchorage did not reply to repeated written and telephone requests by SCN over the past several weeks to talk about the physician replacement effort and the local hospital’s FQHC status.
Note 2: e-mail of clarification to elements of the above article by Providence Community Relations Specialist Ginger Houghton, received Oct 2:
1. The FQHC higher reimbursement rates is for clinic visits so the resulting benefit is to the clinic, not to the hospital or Providence.
2. Patty Beals is the Community Health Council board chair but her role is as a community member. It is a coincidence she also worked for Providence. There is a designated ex-officio position (non-voting member) on the board for Providence, which is held by Joe Fong. While Providence is supportive and will work collaboratively with the City and CHC Board, this is not a Providence-driven effort.