Community health clinics due stimulus funds

April 10, 2009|By Kelly Brewington | Kelly Brewington,kelly.brewington@baltsun.com

Maryland's struggling community health centers are getting $4.3 million in federal stimulus money so they can offer primary care to thousands more needy people.

The federal money is going to 16 groups that operate community health centers in Maryland. U.S Rep. John Sarbanes visited one program - Baltimore's Highlandtown Community Health Center - Thursday morning to present its parent company, Baltimore Medical System, with a check for $571,742.

Baltimore Medical System, the city's largest network of health centers, will use the money to treat 1,500 more uninsured patients at its seven sites in Baltimore and Baltimore County.

Last year, Baltimore Medical System served about 11,000 uninsured patients - about a quarter of its total patient load of 45,000. But the uninsured figure is expected to grow rapidly this year, as job losses leave many without health insurance. Baltimore Medical System's clinics receive 60 calls a day from new patients, twice the number of six months ago, said its CEO, Jay Wolvovsky. "Baltimore Medical System is very grateful to the president and to Congress for recognizing the additional burden that safety-net providers are going to feel from the change in the economic environment," he said. "We will use this money toward good purposes."

The stimulus money will provide $155 million in grants to 126 health center operators nationwide, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Over the next two years, another $2 billion will go to centers around the country to cover repairs, renovations, improvements in information technology and health services.

Federally funded health centers are sometimes the only medical care for low-income patients, including people who lost their insurance when they lost a job. About one in 19 people nationwide relies on a clinic for primary care, federal officials say.

Sarbanes, a Baltimore Democrat, said the clinics do more than provide a safety net. They are a model of health care reform, he said. "I truly believe this represents the future of health care in this country," he said. "This kind of a resource is going to be the backbone of a health care system that is focused on preventive and primary care."

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