Utah health clinics get a share of federal recovery money

For improvements » Nearly $6.5 million in federal grant funds will be shared among 11 locales
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Patients at certain Utah community health centers will see holes patched in carpets and buildings renovated, receive home phone calls through new electronic record-keeping systems, and in a few cases see more fellow patients making appointments.

Eleven community health centers in Utah received more than $6 million in federal grant money Monday from the Recovery Act Capital Improvement Program (CIP).

Nationally, CIP grants will support construction work and technological upgrades at more than 2,000 community health centers. The money is intended to improve facilities, said Alan Pruhs, associate director of the Association for Utah Community Health. Any added patient capacity will be a bonus.

"This is a real leap of faith for the feds," said Dexter Pearce, executive director of Community Health Centers Inc. (CHC). "It's a testament to the power of the community health movement."

One out of every 18 people in the country gets health care through community clinics, Pearce said, making it the largest health care system in the nation.

But patients at these clinics are usually low income, and 40 percent nationally have no health insurance. Of the 31,000 patients Pearce serves in the Salt Lake Valley, roughly 15,000 are uninsured.

That means the clinics are chronically underfunded, and have to let their facilities degrade to treat the maximum number of people.

The CIP grant money should help reverse that trend. In a process that began in late May, each of the 11 grantees fed numbers into a federal formula that calculated the highest possible allocation. Then, each filled out a grant application showing how it would spend the funds.

CHC received $1.3 million to first replace its Copperview clinic. Pending additional operational funding, the clinic could serve 3,000 more patients. CHC will also make all paper-based records electronic, allowing physicians to track patient records more easily. New phone technology will allow physicians to call homes with important reminders.

Carpets, paint, parking lots and other miscellaneous repairs will drain the remaining funds.

"There won't be any new hot tubs or gold plated toilets," Pearce said. "We will not be living large with this money."

Pruhs said with the new equipment, technological upgrades, and building renovations, grantees hope to improve the delivery of care.

Midtown Community Health Center Executive Director Lisa Nichols said her $1.158 million allocation will pay for improvements to a new pediatric clinic in Washington Terrace and allow the clinic to hire two more pediatricians. It will also pay for renovations to a combined dental and medical clinic space in Clearfield, improving quality and capacity.

"It's much needed," Nichols said. "Particularly in this economy we're turning people away every day."

At the Green River Medical Clinic, $303,000 will help create more friendly, efficient offices and patient rooms, Executive Director Mary Winters said. Her patient population has stayed relatively stagnant, but she said being able to upgrade her facilities is "wonderful."

11 Community health centers divide $6,444,030 in grants

-- Not all individual totals were available by Monday evening.

1. Bear Lake Community Health Center Inc. Garden City

2. Midtown Community Health Center Ogden

-- $1.158 million

3. Community Health Centers Inc. Salt Lake City

-- $1.3 million

4. Wasatch Homeless Health Care Inc. Salt Lake City

5. Mountainlands Community Health Center Provo

6. Enterprise Valley Medical Clinic Enterprise

7. Southwest Utah Community Health Center St. George

8. Wayne Community Health Centers, Inc. Bicknell

9. Carbon Medical Service Association Inc. East Carbon

10. Green River Medical Center Green River

-- $303,000

11. Utah Navajo Health Systems Inc. Bicknell