DADE CITY — A nonprofit organization that provides primary medical care for low-income and uninsured residents has won a $253,750 federal grant to expand its facilities as part of federal health care reform.
Premier Community HealthCare Group, with locations in east and west Pasco, received the money as part of the Affordable Care Act, which pumped a total of $21.4 million into community health centers in Florida and more than $728 million into health care centers across the United States. In Florida, clinic operators expect these awards will help them serve approximately 41,190 new patients.
Premier CEO Kim Schuknecht said the money will be spent turning space that once held paper medical records into additional exam rooms, waiting areas or other office space that is freed up now that all medical records are electronic.
"The need is growing," she said. The renovations will take place at the Zephyrhills clinic and the women's care and behavioral health clinics on Pasco Avenue in Dade City.
In a development unrelated to the grant, Premier is closing its primary care office at 6636 Forest Ave. in New Port Richey and moving June 4 to a new location at 2114 Seven Springs Blvd. Suite 300 in Trinity.
Schuknecht said the new location offers more parking spaces and gives the clinic room to expand into more suites. She said it is easily accessible through the public bus system so the move should not cause transportation problems.
The clinic, which began more than 30 years ago in east Pasco, has expanded in recent years to west Pasco. It accepts Medicare and Medicaid as well as private insurance plans. Uninsured patients are charged on a sliding fee scale based on income.
When the west Pasco clinic first opened, 85 percent of patients had no health insurance. That has since decreased to about 65 percent.
"We help them get on Medicaid or Medicare," Schuknecht said. "A lot of people didn't even realize the programs were available to them."
Her statements about the role community health care centers play were echoed by Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
"For many Americans, community health centers are the major source of care that ranges from prevention to treatment of chronic diseases," she said in a news release. "This investment will expand our ability to provide high-quality care to millions of people while supporting good paying jobs in communities across the country."
Nationwide, the grants across the United States will support renovation and construction projects, boosting health centers' ability to care for additional patients and creating jobs.
According to the health and human services department, the awards are part of a series of capital investments that are made available to community health centers through the Affordable Care Act, which provides $9.5 billion to expand services over five years and $1.5 billion to support major construction and renovation projects at community health centers.
Overall, since the beginning of 2009, employment at community health centers nationwide has increased by 15 percent. And, primarily due to the Affordable Care Act and the Recovery Act, federal officials say, community health centers are serving nearly 3 million additional patients today and will serve an additional 1.3 million additional new patients in the next two years.