When it comes to federal grant funding, good news travels fastso fast that sometimes the recipient is the last to know.
That was the case last week for Joe Dawsey, executive director of the Coastal Family Health Center in Biloxi, Miss. Just days before the two-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrinawhich destroyed four of Coastal Familys nine clinicsDawsey received calls from colleagues congratulating him on the centers nearly $1.4 million grant from HHS Health Resources and Services Administration. Coastal Familys award (which was listed on HRSAs recipient list) is part of $31.4 million in health information technology grants that HRSA Administrator Elizabeth Duke announced Aug. 27 at the National Association of Community Health Centers annual meeting in Dallas. The money is intended to expand health IT at community health centers across the country.
In all, HRSA distributed about $93 million to health centers.
Of the IT funds, 25 grants totaling more than $27 million will support implementing electronic health records at health centers in networks that link multiple health center grant recipients. Also, eight grants totaling about
$1 million will help health centers plan activities that will prepare them to adopt electronic health records or what HRSA called other HIT innovations. Finally, 13 grants worth more than $3 million will be used to help health center networks implement other health information programs other than EHRs.
In Biloxi, the $1.39 million has been earmarked to integrate seven different community health centers, while Coastal Family will serve as the clearing house, according to Dawsey, who said that he hopes to have the necessary hardware and software within two months. Prior to Hurricane Katrina, Coastal Family had used only paper records, and Dawsey estimated that nearly 60,000 were destroyed after the storm.
The clinic had considered EHRs before, and Katrina made up our mind for us, Dawsey said, adding that he hopes an electronic system will make the area more attractive to healthcare providers.
The doctors that we have have worked with electronic health records and wonder why we dont have them, Dawsey said. Its impossible to recruit providers down here. I cant get anyone to talk to me about working here. This will help modernize to get them down here.
Since Katrina, Coastal Family has operated 15 different sites, many of which are small and have either one physician or a part-time provider to administer care. The center expects to open a new facility in November that will incorporate four smaller sites into one.
In addition to its health IT grants, HRSA also said it will award $61.4 million for new health centers in high-poverty areas.
The breakdown includes 74 grants totaling $36.5 million to create new health centers as part of President Bushs High Poverty County Initiative; 25 grants worth nearly $2 million to create plans to develop health centers in high-poverty counties; $20 million to establish 41 new health center sites in 25 states in areas where more primary care is needed; and grants worth more than $1 million to expand medical capacity at four existing centers in Arizona, Indiana and South Carolina.
This year, Texas did well, but they have an extremely larger underserved population, said Craig Kennedy, associate vice president of federal affairs for the NACHC. Its spread across the country in high-need areas. We have identified 56 million (who) need access to a health center, and this is a good step in the right direction. Kennedy said the laborious application approval and ranking process has been completed, so the communities should have access to the funds very quickly.
One of those recipients is the Yellowstone City-County Health Department in Billings, Mont., which will disburse the funds to the areas primary-care center, the Deering Clinic in Billings. Lil Anderson, chief executive officer at the Deering Clinic for the past 16 years, said the $318,000 grantwhich ends in March with the option to reapplywill be used to expand primary-care clinics in Bridger, Joliet and Warden, Mont. St. Vincent Healthcare already operates the clinics in Bridger and Warden. By Jan. 1, the Deering Clinic will oversee those two clinics as well as one that is expected to reopen in Joliet, according to Anderson.
The region also received $125,000 in health information technology funds as a planning grant to integrate the four main homeless clinics in Billings, Butte, Helena and Missoula, which have multiple sites, said Anderson, who added that representatives from those clinics will participate in a task force to determine how to implement the technology to connect the sites electronically. But while Anderson sounded eager to use the funding for improvements, she emphasized the need to think differently about the healthcare delivery system in America.
Overall, conceptually, we really believe that the healthcare system is broken, Anderson said. As we are in the debates of healthcare reform, deciding what we need to do with healthcare, wed really like to see the debate change from insurance and institutional care and talk about primary care and prevention.