By Heidi Zemach for Seward City News -
SEWARD, Alaska - Seward received some very welcome news today. Seward will receive $774,000 from U.S. Health and Human Services Affordable Care Act funds to create a Federally-Qualified Community Health Clinic in Seward that would provide improved primary health services here. The grant amount was even higher than Seward had hoped for, and to get the award, it had to compete with hundreds of other communities across the U.S.
The Seward Community Health Center Board, and City of Seward have just 120 days with which to implement the new health center and open for business. That means hiring an executive director, staff members, and acquiring the needed equipment to open.
“I think it’s an exciting possibility for the community,” said Seward City Vice Mayor Marianna Keil who recently resigned from the board but has been a longtime supporter of the concept. “I really do think it’s great.” The local board members have worked hard over the past few years to bring it about, she said. ” She called the $774,000 sum ” a nice amount of money.” Those grant amounts, once established, generally continue to be provided in future years, she said.
Seward was one of six Alaska communities to receive federal “Access Point” grant awards for FY 2014, totaling $3,980,292. Others included Kodiak ($812K), Fairbanks (975K), Nome ($650K), Glennallen ($400K) and Anchorage ($367K). The clinics are estimated to be able to serve 15,926 additional patients in Alaska. Nationwide, $150 million in grants were awarded to support 236 new health center sites.
“So wow, aren’t we excited!,” said CHC Board Chair Patty Beals, “and we know that this is a really huge step forward for quality sustainable health care for the service community that will reach out to Moose Pass and all the surrounding communities.” Not only were they excited, but they were also somewhat stunned upon hearing of the award because they had not expected the HHS to reopen the grant awards. Their job will be to move forward the plans already outlined in the implementation plan for the latest application,” Beals said. ”… and so and we’re going to put our best foot forward and insure that we’re going to get everything into place by getting the right people in the right places moving forward.”
The CHC Board meets every third Thursday at 6:00 p.m. at Seward Mountain Haven, and is open to the public.
The CHC would replace the clinic at Providence Medical & Care Center, but would function as an entirely separate entity, although it would physically remain in the hospital building. The CHC also would create contractual arrangements with local health care providers. A requirement of the funding is that CHCs not compete with businesses already in the community, such as those who provide dental or eye-care services, and mental health or drug-treatment services. The CHC will then refer patients to them for those particular services.
Although Seward didn’t make the previous group of CHC winners announced by the federal government in September, the community health board and the Anchorage consultant they hired, continued to carry the concept forward, hoping to create a “look alike” facility, Keil said. They voted to approve expanded clinic hours, including Saturday hours. They were asking the city to expend another $75,000 to keep contracting with their specialist. That item is currently on the city council’s agenda for Monday’s meeting.
Community health centers play an important role in delivering health care services in communities with historically high numbers of uninsured residents. They must offer comprehensive care, and monitor care for those with various chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. Their staff will call clients and remind them when it’s time to return for a follow up exam, or when another lab test is needed. They also must be open during hours when they are needed, including evenings and weekends.
“We are committed to providing more people across the country with the quality patient-centered care they deserve,” said U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, in an announcement today. “Health centers are key partners in the improving access to quality, affordable health care services for those who need it most. With new, affordable health insurance options available under the Affordable Care Act, community health centers are also key partners in helping uninsured residents sign up for health coverage – many of whom have been locked out of the health insurance market for years.”
Community Health Clinics serve everybody in the community, not just the uninsured or underinsured, according to consultant Suzanne Niemi. They work with clients to help fund the services they need, depending on what they can qualify for, and they must offer health care on a sliding fee scale.
A CHC clinic would enable Seward Providence Medical Care Center managers to focus on providing emergency care, which it does best, as well operating Seward Mountain Haven, the long-term elder care facility, according to Joe Fong, the director of the center.
CHCs were created in 1965 during President Johnson’s War on Poverty. They have been viewed as a safety net, serving medically underserved communities. The entire Kenai Peninsula is considered medically under-served.