Health centers get funds

Two Elm City community health centers waging a battle to provide affordable health care to low-income patients received $7.2 million in state funds to begin their structural expansions.

The Hill Health Center and the Fair Haven Community Health Center received $6.2 million and $1 million, respectively, to expand their current programs. The money was part of a $28.5 million state-wide grant package distributed among 14 projects focused on expanding low-cost health care, and Connecticut Governor M. Jodi Rell said in a statement Friday that the grants are part of the ongoing initiative to improve health care for uninsured and low-income state residents.

“This initiative is not only an exciting step forward for Connecticut’s health care system, but a very necessary action for us to take,” she said. “The problem is that many of the health centers need financial help to expand and modernize their facilities in order to serve more people.”

Unlike most hospitals, community health centers focus on providing medical treatment to all patients, including the uninsured, said Robert Kilpatrick, Hill Health Center spokesman. To this end, he said, the center uses a sliding fee scale that charges uninsured patients less money.

“We are seen as a safety net that people [use if] they can’t get health care at any other place,” he said.

Kilpatrick estimated the Hill Heath Center provides primary care to 28,000 people annually, approximately a fifth of whom are uninsured. He said the new funds will be used to renovate an old school building on Columbus Avenue that will house a family guidance clinic and adult psychiatric clinic for the Hill Health Center.

Fair Haven Community Health Center Executive Director Katrina Clark said her organization will use the funds to expand infrastructure and cut down wait times, which currently stand at six to eight weeks for first-time patients, 40 percent of whom are uninsured.

“We can’t see more patients unless we have more space to hire new staff,” she said.

The decision to divert more funds to the centers was praised by Ward 4 Alderwoman Andrea Jackson-Brooks, who said that the long-overdue grants will allow for much-needed improvements of the Hill Health Center.

“We have been applying for bond money for at least five or six years or even before then,” Jackson-Brooks said. “We have money to serve patients, but we do not have any money for the maintenance of property. This [bond money] will go a long way.”

Jackson-Brooks also serves as the chairman of the board of the Hill Health Center.

Clark said that while the grants will help improve the center’s quality of service, a far-reaching reform of the health care system is needed to impact the state’s public health in the long term.

“This is a one-shot deal that is just for construction,” she said. “That is why we are still left with a challenge, and we hope we will see some kind of health care reform for the uninsured.”

The health centers in New Haven offer primary health care and other services including dental care, Clark said. When a patient at the health center needs surgery but cannot afford it, she said the community center’s social workers contact their counterparts at local hospitals to find a way to fund the patient’s treatment. But while a solution is found in many cases, Clark said there is not a specific procedure in place to ensure the patient will receive the necessary financial assistance.

The State Bond Commission allocates funds to projects recommended to it by individual state agencies, Undersecretary of Legislative Affairs Susan Hamilton said. The Commission is chaired by Rell, and the funds it issues can only be used for capital improvements.

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