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8 Bay State health centers to expand

US grants $43m to build or renovate

By Elizabeth Cooney
Globe Correspondent / October 9, 2010

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Eight community health centers in Massachusetts will receive a total of $43 million to construct new buildings or renovate their current homes, part of an infusion of federal dollars to support clinics devoted to preventive and primary care.

The US Department of Health and Human Services announced grants yesterday of $727 million for 143 centers across the nation, funded by the Affordable Care Act, the federal health care overhaul legislation aimed at increasing insurance coverage and access to care. In Massachusetts, the money is expected to help the health centers care for more than 31,000 new patients.

The new aid follows a round of economic stimulus funding that was awarded health centers last December, including eight in Massachusetts that shared $80 million to upgrade buildings and technology.

Brockton Neighborhood Health Center, one of yesterday’s recipients, now has more patients and primary care doctors to care for them than it has space, chief executive officer Susan Joss said.

“We’re at the point now where every two weeks we juggle who shares the office and who gets what exam room on what day,’’ she said. “The space isn’t there, but the patients are.’’

The Brockton clinic will use its $11.36 million grant to complete a five-story, 30,000-square-foot addition to its three-year-old building. One floor was added in July, paid for in part by federal stimulus funds that covered one-third of the cost, but the health center did not have enough money for the four more floors it needs to meet its rapidly growing patient population.

For the fiscal year that just ended, there were 109,000 patient visits; that number is expected to swell to 130,000 this fiscal year, Joss said.

“It’s completely overwhelming,’’ she said. “We have 400 to 500 new patients a month. There doesn’t appear to be any reason for us to think that, other than space, it’s going to slow down.’’

Community health centers care for people in some of the poorest neighborhoods in Massachusetts. They have been key players in providing primary care to people who were uninsured before the state passed its health coverage law in 2006, which mandates that most adults have health insurance and subsidizes the cost for people with incomes up to 300 percent of the poverty line. Enactment of the new federal law is expected to place the same pressure on community health centers in other states to care for more patients than before.

At the Codman Square Health Center in Dorchester, which also has more than 100,000 patient visits a year, its $7.95 million grant will help fund a 36,000-square-foot expansion to its main building and enable the center to expand its use of group visits, said chief executive Bill Walczak.

Five years ago, the health center began offering group visits for 10 diabetes patients at a time so they could learn from specialists and one another how to better manage their chronic disease.

Pregnant women were also invited to try group visits, starting three years ago. Blood sugar control improved for patients with diabetes, and rates of low birth weight, which can put newborns’ health at risk, fell for babies of mothers who had attended group visits, Walczak said.

Group visits for women with infants were added in November, and groups for parents of preschoolers, with an emphasis on school readiness, as well as health, will find a home in the new space.

“This is a godsend for us,’’ Walczak said. “Not only will it allow us to do a new model of health care, but it will also allow us to expand so we can accommodate new patients. We get new patients every day here.’’

Other recipients announced yesterday are: Community Health Center of Cape Cod, Mashpee, $6 million; Edward M. Kennedy Health Center (formerly Great Brook Valley Health Center), Worcester, $6.4 million; Outer Cape Health Services, Wellfleet, $3.62 million; Lynn Community Health Center, $6.94 million; North Shore Community Health, Salem, $750,000; and Duffy Health Center, Hyannis, $461,991.

“These centers are essential parts of our health care system, and the communities they serve deserve this support,’’ Governor Deval Patrick said in a statement. “We welcome the jobs and economic development that will come as a result of this new commitment.’’

Elizabeth Cooney can be reached at ecooney@globe.com.

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