HRSA awards funds to Seward, Seldovia, PCHS

The Health Resources and Services Administration, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, will award $7.8 million to health centers across Alaska to expand services for patients.

The Peninsula Community Health Services in Soldotna, Seward and the Seldovia Village Tribe all received funds. PCHS, which recently received another grant totaling $858,333 to open a new health center in Kenai, received a further $257,838.

The Seldovia Village Tribe, which operates its own health service center, received $251,358. The city of Seward received $241,108.

“These awards will give more people in Alaska access to comprehensive, quality health care,” said HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell according to the news release. “With these awards, health centers will be able to do things like increase their hours of operation, hire more behavioral health providers, add dental facilities, better treat patients with opioid use disorders, and help people get coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace and make the journey from coverage to primary care.”

The grants awarded to Seldovia, Seward and PCHS can be used to increase the availability of services including medical, oral, behavioral, pharmacy and vision care. The funds were determined based on the number of patients reported to HRSA annually — beginning with $220,000, the health centers received $2 for each patient and an additional $4 for each uninsured patient, said Martin Kramer, director of communications for the HRSA.

“Based on the number of approvable applications the Health Resources and Services Administration adjusted award amounts consistent with funds available,” Kramer wrote in an email. “In short, these awards were made using a formula.”

The awards to the three entities on the peninsula were among a group of awards to 27 health centers across the state. Another set of grants, issued at the same time, were larger — up to $1 million. The Bristol Bay Health Corporation received one of the larger awards. The $1 million grant can be used to build or renovate facilities to increase patient or service capacity.

Approximately $150 million was awarded to 160 centers for these facility renovations, ranging from approximately $369,000 up to $1 million.

The construction and renovation award applications were reviewed by an objective committee composed of outside experts, which evaluated the applications, determining the amount of funding based on the score awarded to the applications by the committee, Kramer said.

The HRSA estimates that the approximately $6.8 million awarded to the 27 community health centers will expand patient capacity statewide by 6,682 patients.

An analysis released last year by the Department of Health and Social Services estimated that between 10,000 and 12,000 Alaskans have no reliable access to healthcare services. This was restricted to individuals between 18 and 64 years of age, who do not have health insurance, do not qualify for Medicaid and are not qualified for outside services such as tribal health services, according to DHSS. The report was commissioned by former governor Sean Parnell during the debate on whether to expand Medicaid in the state.

Alaska’s uninsured rate has dropped from approximately 18.9 percent in 2013 to approximately 10.3 percent in the first half of 2015, according to a Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index report from Aug. 10.

The Seward Community Health Center is planning to use the funds to hire a medical assistant and a full-time internist, said Executive Director Pat Linton. Many of the patients the center cares for have multiple complex conditions require a trip to Anchorage for specialty care. Hiring an internist will allow them to stay local, Linton said.

Linton said the new internist, when hired, may be able to work with the hospital to develop a more focused senior-care program as well as provide for patients in the primary-care setting.

“When we got this funding opportunity, we thought, what was the best thing we could do?” Linton said. “The staff unanimously said we could use an internist. They’re very excited.”

Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com.

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