By Talib I. Karim, Tech & Health Writer
Recently, President Obama’s administration awarded grants of over $728 million for the renovation and construction of health centers around the country. DC andMaryland centers snagged more than $15 million for projects designed to boost local government’s ability to care for low and mid-income patients while creating jobs in the process.
The funds were made possible by the Affordable Care Act, described as the President’s signature legislative achievement, currently being examined by the U.S. Supreme Court, which in weeks, is set to rule on whether the law should be upheld.
“We don’t have time to wait,” to determine how the Court will rule on the law said Cecilia Muñoz, Director of the Domestic Policy Council. Instead, the President is moving ahead to ensure that the public enjoys all the many benefits of the landmark health reform law asserts Muñoz.
One significant benefit under health reform, carved out and championed by Congressional Black Caucus and progressives in Congress, was $11 billion for community health centers. These facilities, located in urban and rural communities alike, are designed to offer comprehensive, culturally competent, health care services to communities and vulnerable populations that lack access to quality health care. By definition, these centers are community-based and serve individuals and families experiencing homelessness, those living in public housing, immigrants and many others.
Over the next five years, the community health center provision of the Obama health law divides its funding up by setting aside $9.5 billion to build new or expand existing health centers, and $1.5 billion to help maintain and renovate current community health centers.
In addition to expanding health care access, the funding is also designed to create jobs, according to White House officials. The numbers back up this claim. The Obama Health and Human Services department reports that President’s health care law has funded as many as 190 construction and renovation projects and helped open up 67 new health center sites across the country to date. Through 2014, the law aims to fund more than 485 new health center construction and renovation projects. It’s predicted that in total, community health center funding will pave the way for 457,300 jobs by 2015.
When its all said and done, the $11 billion invested by the government is expected to generate $54 billion in economic activity, in two ways. First, health centers employ people in the communities they serve, including entry-level workers taking people right off the unemployed rolls. Second, health centers purchase goods and services from local businesses, which leads to even more job growth according to thinkprogress.org, a blog of the progressive Center for American Progress Action Fund.
An example of the direct impact of the funding on local communities can be seen in the efforts of Community of Hope, one of the six DC and Maryland non-profits winning health center grants. Community of Hope got a half-million dollars through a grant targeting existing health centers seeking to address pressing facility and equipment needs. With the money, the non-profit intends to invest in equipment and renovations for its newly acquired Family Health and Birth Center located at 801 17th Street, NE, near the old Heckinger Mall said Kelly Sweeney McShane, the group’s executive director. “We want to buy an ultrasound machine, phone system, and more exam tables,” states McShane. “We also want to configure space [of the center] so we can see more patients…and give [patients] more privacy,” McShane adds.
And even though it’s a relatively small pool of money, McShane hopes to spend as much of it as possible with small, community based, and disadvantaged businesses. “We’re currently taking bids for a general contractor for this project,” noted McShane. With this and the larger multimillion 50,000 square foot facility planned for Ward 8, McShane says her group is committed to spending as much of 40% of the overall construction dollars with community-based businesses.
If the health law prevails, communities can expect another round of funding for local health centers in June. According to the US Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), up to $150 million will be available to support approximately 220 new full-time service delivery site(s) for the provision of comprehensive primary and preventive health care services including oral and behavioral health services. Groups interested in applying for health center grants can visit http://bphc.hrsa.gov/about/howtoapply/index.html.## The writer can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.