Federal money is flowing into community health centers in Pa, but leaders say there are too many limits to that.

Federal money is flowing into community health centers in Pa, but leaders say there are too many limits to that.

Health care needs among central Pennsylvania’s poor have no racial, ethnic or geographic boundaries “We wish it wasn’t so specific. That uses weren’t so specific,” said Jeannine Peterson, CEO of the Hamilton Health Center. “Certainly the first pot of money was for testing and we were doing a lot of testing. Then once the vaccine came out in January, testing slowed down but there’s still all this testing money and you can’t use it for anything but testing.” The latest funding stream was released in June by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which designated Pennsylvania to receive $27 million dollars specifically to address health disparities in minority and rural communities. The state Department of Health has yet to release the money, but is finalizing a number of initiatives.

Rinehart recently submitted a proposal for the lapel pins, just one item in a litany of needs and financial requests vying for the tens of millions of dollars in federal funding. “We think that is a very gentle way to be able to open conversation as you are walking someone back to the exam room or weighing them, if they can see a pin on your collar, they might be more open to having a conversation with the person taking their blood pressure than even with a physician or nurse,” Rinehart said.

In fact, community health center officials say there has been no shortage of funding to help them serve impoverished urban or rural communities, especially since the onset of the pandemic. But often, the money comes with restrictions that limit what they can do with it. Amid the urgency to vaccinate minority populations and narrow health care disparities, the lapel pins represent a small financial investment, given the sizable impact that community health centers have on the health of underserved communities, particularly during the coronavirus pandemic.

“The county has responsibility for mental health and substance abuse but it really has no responsibility for health care and there is nowhere in the city that does,” Peterson said. “Things fell to the community health centers. We want to be be there to respond. That’s where we lack resources to be able to address the public health needs of the community. These are specific things. The covid money is plentiful but what about everything else we have to do?” The Hamilton Health Center provides free or reduced health care for more than 20,000 residents of Harrisburg and rural communities in Dauphin and Perry counties. The center employs 160 people and provides medical, social, behavioral health, and dental services to tens of thousands of otherwise medically unserved residents. It operates on a budget that exceeds $16 million. Its missions, she says, are critical.

Peterson reels off programs that would enhance workforce development, recruitment, salaries for medical professionals and staff, and a slew of other initiatives, including infrastructure that could impact the six sites under the Hamilton Health umbrella. Federally qualified community health centers in Pennsylvania are in line to get a sizable chunk of the money.

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