'Pretty incredible news' in community
U.S. Senator Tom Harkin announced Monday that United Community Health Center of Storm Lake has received $650,000 to fund a new reduced-fees community health clinic.
The grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is scheduled to be disbursed in December. The clinic will have 120 days to be up and running after the grant disbursement. Fort Dodge received a similar grant Monday.
"We're pretty excited," said Renea Seagren, interim executive director of United Community Health Center. Seagren said the Center received the full grant amount it had requested, after being denied the same grant in October, 2004. The project supporters reapplied the next month.
"We are very, very pleased to receive word of funding for the United Community Health Center serving Buena Vista and Sac Counties," Seagren said. "We believe Senator Harkin's office was instrumental in helping us secure this funding and we are very appreciative of his efforts. Diane Hamilton of Storm Lake arranged a meeting with Senator Harkin one month ago in Washington, D.C. Larry Rohret, executive director of Upper Des Moines Opportunity, was responsible for initiating efforts for a community health center in May 2003 and has continued to support the project throughout the grant process."
While the 2005 awards come in two phases, May and December.
Seagren said she was grateful that the award for the Storm Lake clinic is coming in December because that allows more time to make preparations for the clinic. There is a 120-day window from the time of the grant disbursement until the time when the clinic must be running. "It gives us a little more prep time," Seagren said.
The clinic is expected to be operational by next April 1. The grant is renewable, meaning funding should continue indefinitely provided the administrative procedures required by the federal government are followed.
Seagren credited the grant award to bipartisan support for the program which started in 1965. "It means quite a bit of money coming into the community," Seagren said.
"It was pretty incredible news," said Diane Hamilton, a member of the marketing committee for the clinic project who set up the meeting with Senator Harkin for Seagren.
Hamilton said she believed Storm Lake had a good chance for the grant application given its demographics; however, she said she wanted to take nothing for granted.
"I don't like to count something unless I know it's a for sure deal," Hamilton said. Hamilton said there were 180 other communities around the country competing for the same grant.
Hamilton said the clinic has to be run by a physician. There will also be a nurse practitioner, dentist, and dental hygienist on staff. The clinic will also provide transportation and interpreter services. Hamilton said the clinic will have extended hours to accommodate women with children. There will be a sliding fee scale for services. "It's not going to be a free clinic by any means," Hamilton said.
Rather than competing with other healthcare facilities in Storm Lake and the surrounding area, Hamilton said the clinic will handle those cases that may not require the full attention of a physician. That will then take the pressure off other medical facilities so they can handle more pressing treatments. "It will probably make better use of their facilities," Hamilton said. She said the clinic will also likely cut down on emergency room visits.
Hamilton cited statistics that Buena Vista Regional Medical Center had $390,000 in uncompensated medical treatment costs in 2000. Hamilton said that figure rose to $900,000 in 2004. She said the clinic could help reduce those uncompensated treatment charges.
In addition to treatment, Hamilton said she foresees that the clinic will help with health education.
"Hopefully, there will be a lot of education going on," Hamilton said. "This is needed because of the changes in the makeup of our community. I think it will be great for the community."
"Community health centers improve access to health care for Iowans who lack adequate health insurance," said Harkin. "We need to do all we can to ensure Iowans get the quality, affordable healthcare they need. I am pleased the Fort Dodge and Storm Lake communities are receiving this important funding."
When fully operational, the Storm Lake Health Center will serve an estimated 5,000 patients in a six-county area including Buena Vista, Sac, Ida, Pocahontas, Cherokee, and Clay counties, 45 percent of whom are uninsured. The Center will provide primary medical care, laboratory services, immunizations, dental care, nutritional advice, mental health services, family planning, and obstetrics and gynecological service.
The grants are part of $63 million given to 105 communities to expand health care services to low-income, uninsured Americans. Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt said about 632,000 Americans will benefit from the grants.
The grants continue President Bush's five-year initiative to help communities across the country create or expand access to comprehensive primary health care services. Launched in 2002, the initiative will add 1,200 new and expanded health center sites and increase the number of people served annually from about 10 million to 16 million by 2006.
"The President's initiative has greatly expanded the capacity of health centers over the past three years. As a result, almost three million additional Americans now have access to health care services," Secretary Leavitt said. "These grants build upon those efforts and will extend the health care safety net to more Iowans."
Charges for health care services are set according to income.
The HHS Health Resources and Services Administration manages the Consolidated Health Center Program, which funds a national network of more than 3,600 clinics comprised of community health centers, migrant health centers, health care for the homeless centers and public housing primary care centers.
In addition to the grant, the clinic received a boost a few months ago when the Buena Vista County Board of Supervisors agreed to allocate funding from the Buckingham Trust fund to the clinic. The trust is intended to help pay for medical costs for needy children.
Dr. Ronald Dierwechter, former owner of the building where the clinic will be located, deeded the building over to a trust that he created at Citizens Bank, the Relief and Development trust. Dierwechter said the original purpose of the trust was to have any rental or lease proceeds go toward benevolent purposes, such as his volunteer missions to Africa. In the situation of the clinic, the proceeds are actually more immediate and direct.
"We're happy to have it be used with anything that's of a benevolent purpose," Dr. Dierwechter said Monday. "I was quite excited to hear the news that the grant was approved."
Dr. Dierwechter said, "I'm quite interested in seeing that this goes. It's really been Renea who deserves the credit for this. She and her colleagues deserve credit for this."