With a grant from Affordable Care Act funding, the Vineyard’s rural health care clinic — the first and only in the state — will become a federally qualified health care center.
The designation comes with annual operational funds from the federal government that will allow the clinic to expand, add staffing positions and increase health care access on the Island.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human services announced Thursday morning that six Massachusetts health centers were awarded grants to expand access to care. The $3.5 million awarded was made available by the Affordable Care Act.
Island Health Inc., which runs the Island Health Care rural health clinic in Edgartown, was one of the six centers receiving funds. Their award this year is $714,350.
Health centers in Worcester, Springfield, North Quincy, Mattapan and Boston’s South End also received grant awards. Island Health executive director Cynthia Mitchell said the grant means that the clinic will become a federally qualified health care center that is eligible to receive “much-needed” annual operational funds from the federal government to sustain the program. “We’re thrilled,” Mrs. Mitchell said. The health center will continue to serve the community as a primary care provider, she said, acting as a safety net and accepting all residents. Island Health Care opened in 2004 and was designated a rural health care center. It was the only center with that designation in the state.
Like rural health centers, federally qualified health care centers must serve an area or population that is considered medically underserved. According to the federal government, federally qualified health care centers are eligible for enhanced Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement and other benefits.
Additionally, “we hope to expand somewhat,” she said. “It’ll take several years to get it geared up to the level it will ultimately be.”
Some of the federal funds will also go to the Vineyard Health Care Access Program, a program that helps residents find affordable health care.
The grant funding period is from Nov. 1, 2013 to Jan. 31, 2016. The first award amount is higher than normal, Mrs. Mitchell said, to account for alterations and renovations at the clinic. For the second and third year, she said, the amount will be about $525,000, assuming that the program remains qualified for the funds.
The clinic now has about 2,500 patients who visit between 5,000 and 6,000 times a year. By the second year of the program, Mrs. Mitchell said they hope to expand to serve 3,500 patients over 8,750 visits.
The clinic employs two full-time nurse practitioners and a couple of part-time practitioners, a part-time medical director and three full-time support staff. Mrs. Mitchell said the federal funding will allow the program to add two or three support positions and will partially fund positions at the health care access program.
Island Health Care will retain its existing nurse practitioner model, which Ms. Mitchell called the “rural health center heritage.” The clinic has a part-time physician and most patients see nurse practitioners for their care.
With the new funding they will add exam room space at the clinic, and there are hopes to expand more over time, “which will allow us to provide more services,” she said.
Additionally, the health care center works with other providers on the Vineyard to secure integrated care for patients. Being a federally qualified health care center means that the health care center must either provide a scope of services, like behavioral and mental care or dental care, or assure clients that they will be referred to those services.
“We so appreciate the support we’ve had in submitting the application,” Mrs. Mitchell said, noting the clinic’s cooperative relationship with the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital. In awarding the application, she said, “the federal government wants to know [that the center is in] a solid partnership with the local hospital.”
Mrs. Mitchell said the affordable care act funds are part of a “real movement to expand community health care to address what will be a higher demand.”
“This will mean that with some additional resources we’ll be able to meet a higher demand for primary care,” she said.
“We remain committed to providing more Massachusetts residents with the quality patient-centered care they deserve,” Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a press release. “Massachusetts health centers are key partners in the implementation of the Affordable Health Care Act, and new health center sites will increase access to those who need it most.”