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Two local community health centers awarded federal health-reform grants

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 14, 2010 - The federal government has taken another step toward health reform. It has awarded $727 million to 143 community health centers across the country to build capacity as the nation moves toward providing medical care for most Americans.

Missouri got $24 million, with $5 million of it going to Crider Health Center in Wentzville, and $2.1 million to Grace Hill Neighborhood Health Centers in St. Louis.

"The funds from the Affordable Care Act will help more people get care in communities in St. Louis and across Missouri," says Mary K. Wakefield, administrator of the Health Resources and Services Administration at the Department of Health and Human Services. She was in St. Louis on Thursday to tour some Grace Hill health facilities.

Joe Pierle, chief executive officer at the Missouri Primary Care Association, a nonprofit organization supporting community health centers, says the additional funding will indirectly address racial disparities in health in St. Louis. He says community health centers already are focused on the issue through a patient management system. It includes doctors and others on a health center team helping patients set goals, such as to stop smoking and exercise more to produce better health outcomes.

"With a whole bunch of people getting coverage in 2014, I believe the health system overall is going to be overwhelmed with an influx of patients," said Pierle. "We need to prepare now in anticipation of the reality of more patients in 2014.

"But the thing I caution everybody is that we still have four years to go until reform is truly implemented. So we have to survive the next four years."

Pierle noted that Missouri hasn't been as generous as he would like in funding for federally qualified health centers.

"It's great to have new money, but sometime when you get new money, others try to take (state funding) away. It's like robbing Peter to pay Paul."

Pierle adds that the latest grants weren't automatic.

Missouri got nothing in earlier grants, Pierle says. U.S. Sen. Christopher S. "Kit" Bond, among other political leaders, "made some noise about the fact that Missouri was left out," he says. Since then, Pierle says Missouri leaders had been working with federal officials "making the case for the need in the Midwest, Missouri in particular."

In announcing the grants, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius stressed the importance of community health centers to health reform and access to care. She said the centers serves about 19 million people nationwide, about 40 percent of them lacking health insurance.

Funding for health reporting is provided in part by the Missouri Foundation for Health, a philanthropic organization whose vision is to improve the health of the people in the communities it serves.

Robert Joiner has carved a niche in providing informed reporting about a range of medical issues. He won a Dennis A. Hunt Journalism Award for the Beacon’s "Worlds Apart" series on health-care disparities. His journalism experience includes working at the St. Louis American and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, where he was a beat reporter, wire editor, editorial writer, columnist, and member of the Washington bureau.

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