State agency bolsters community health centers to get federal dollars

By Barbara Pash

The Maryland Community Health Resources Commission awarded $1.3 million in grants to community health centers statewide to help them get more federal dollars.  

Later this year, the federal government will be awarding $250 million in grants to health care centers that target low-income populations in areas without many health care options, and Commission Executive Director Mark Luckner said that these grants are to better position the state’s entities for that money.

“The demand is great” for these grants, the first federal dollars for community health centers in three years, Luckner said.

Applications for these grants are due in mid-November. Centers that receive them must reach organizational mandates and offer medical, dental and behavioral health services. It helps to show state support.

The $1.3 million in grants awarded by the state commission in July went to 14 health centers. Three centers already met federal organizational requirements for the grants — operating in medically underserved areas, with free or nominal-cost services for low-income patients, and with patients making up more than half of the governing board.

The other 11 grants went to health organizations that don’t yet meet those mandates so they can become better positioned for future federal health dollars, Luckner said. The $250 million in federal grants is the first round of funding for a total $11 billion earmarked in the federal health reform bill. The money is to be awarded over the next five years, so more grants will be coming down the pike in the near future.

The federal government awards grants based on a scoring system that favors rural areas and medically and dentally underserved populations. This presents a challenge for Maryland, said Dr. Harry Goodman, director of oral health at the state Health and Mental Hygiene Department.

“The perception of Maryland is big cities, large population, high income,” he said.  “But from my perspective, many parts of Maryland are rural, with a sparse population and limited access to medical and dental care.”

Choptank Community Health System, which serves Talbot, Caroline and Dorchester counties at eight locations, got a commission grant that will be used to expand and improve its dental services. John Strube, vice president of marketing and development, said the state’s grant will help them be more competitive in the race for federal dollars.

West Cecil Health Center in Conowingo will use its funds from the commission to start behavioral health services. Executive Director Mark Rajkowski said that the grant money from the state will help the center secure more money from the federal pot. “It’s a huge advantage,” he said.

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