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New agency stresses health, wellness, social services for poor

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Dec. 28, 2012 - When the Human Development Corp. went out of business this year as a result of management and money problems, the Missouri Department of Social Services had to step in and designate a new agency to deliver the services provided by HDC.

The state picked People’s Community Action Corp. It’s regarded as a good choice because it will provides the usual food, clothing and shelter but also puts the poor within reach of health care, too.

PCAC, which began its work last month, is affiliated with the highly regarded People Health Centers organization on Delmar near DeBaliviere. The organization also offers provide mental-health services through its Hopewell Center, 1504 South Grand.

“What we are trying to do is leverage the health center and the Hopewell center so that people will have more of a one-stop shop,” says Mark Sanford, executive administrator of PCAC. “It’s a brand-new concept. It puts us a step above some other community action agencies.”

If a needy family visits a PCAC office where a provider “finds out that the family has a need for mental health or physical health services, those individuals now have a new partner that can expedite their access to (medical) services,” Sanford says.

The new agency decided to keep the same phone numbers and sites used by HDC to make sure there was no interruption of services during the transition, Sanford said. 

Sanford called the new program a natural for People’s, saying the organization has been evolving and expanding over the years to areas beyond health, such as housing for the elderly and for the disabled. 

This community action contract appears to be the first to link clients to basic health services. Generally, the needy pay a small fee to obtain such services at most federally qualified health centers, including People’s.

Brian Kinkade, the interim director of the state Department of Social Services, said at the time the contract was awarded that the People’s model offered new potential for community action agencies in Missouri.

“More and more, we understand how deeply the problems of poverty and poor health are interrelated,” he said, adding that People’s had “a solid commitment" to community service.

Dwayne Butler, CEO of  the new action agency, says People’s is “very excited about this new opportunity to expand our role in serving our community.”

The PCAC contract is for $2.9 millionthrough the end of September, with the possibility of being reauthorized each year.  Because People’s is a new community action agency, state officials are required to audit its books within the first 12 months of operation.

Community action agencies date back to the old federal War on Poverty program in the '60s. The local agencies are designated by the state Department of Social Services to use block grant funds to provide social services.

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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