During 2009, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) provided an investment of $1 billion that enabled every health center in the nation’s network of community health centers (CHCs) to receive a formula-based grant award for construction and renovation projects.
Locally, the Heartland Community Health Clinic received two ARRA grant awards to be used over a two-year period to increase access to primary and preventive health care to the medically underserved in our community. The two awards were the Capital Improvement Program grant award of $616,030 for capital improvements and the Increased Demand for Services grant award of $231,946 for workforce preservation. These awards are especially critical to Heartland during these challenging economic times when federal and state funds have been cut or eliminated, while at the same time, more and more people in our community have lost their jobs and benefits and are, therefore, seeking access to affordable health care. During 2010, Heartland expects to serve over 14,000 patients through over 44,000 visits.
Heartland’s plan to use the capital funds included an upgrade to 4,400 square feet of the clinic’s Carver facility. One of five sites, this facility had not been renovated since its construction 20 years ago. In the renovation, the waiting room, reception and nurses station areas were reconfigured to improve patient flow and customer service. The entire building was repainted and new lighting, flooring, and furniture were installed to create an environment that is safer and more comfortable for patients as well as more energy-efficient. Existing space was used to add a procedure room to make it possible to perform outpatient procedures and minor surgeries. Finally, the parking lot was resurfaced and the entrance was upgraded to improve handicapped accessibility. This renovation gives the clinic the space to expand its capacity to meet the demand for services by adding a part-time medical provider who will be able to serve 400 new patients by providing an additional 2,760 visits.
Information technology upgrades designed to prepare Heartland for the adoption of electronic health records are a major focus of a second project. With these funds, Heartland is able to secure equipment and hire a new staff person responsible for upgrading the clinic’s information technology infrastructure. Equipment upgrades include the purchase of new computers and server hardware and software required to maintain telephone and data services through power outages. These investments help support Heartland’s transition to an electronic health record system that will result in increased quality of care and improved patient outcomes through better reporting and monitoring.
The value of the investment made in community health centers like Heartland is perhaps best expressed in recent comments made by President Obama. In his remarks on the release of ARRA funds, President Obama said, “I especially want to recognize the leaders here today from health centers across the country for what all of you are doing in your communities every day—working long hours to provide quality care at prices that people can afford, with the dignity and respect they deserve, and in a way that takes into account the challenges that they face in their lives. For you folks, health care isn’t just about diagnosing patients and treating illness—it’s about caring for people and promoting wellness. It’s about emphasizing education and prevention, and helping people lead healthier lives so they don’t get sick in the first place. And it works. Studies show that people living near a health center are less likely to go to the emergency room and less likely to have unmet critical medical needs. CHCs are proven to reduce ethnic and racial disparities in care. And the medical expenses of regular CHC patients are nearly 25 percent lower than those folks who get their care elsewhere—25 percent lower.” iBi