$90m grant program set up to boost health centers

Partners Health Care, Neighborhood Health Plan, and the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers will funnel $90 million in grants over the next 15 years to local health centers in a bid to improve efficiency and quality of care.

Chiefs from the three organizations gathered at a South End health center on Monday to announce the initiative, which they said would reduce patient barriers to care as the industry, facing reforms at the state and federal levels, will need additional resources to meet new requirements.

Beacon Hill leaders passed a health care cost control bill in July as a follow-up to the health care reform bill that was signed into law in 2006 and used as a template for the federal health care overhaul.

“This affiliation helps push that forward,” said James Hunt Jr., the head of the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers.

Community health centers serve about 800,000 patients statewide, including many in Dorchester and Mattapan.

The first round of grants will include $4.25 million and be allotted to 49 centers. Future grant funding, supervised by a board with representatives from the three organizations, will be available through an application process.

Gary Gottlieb, president and CEO of Partners, said the grants will allow the community health centers to innovate, as well as “improve access to care and promote health equity for the underserved.”
Hunt, a Dorchester resident, said most patients should see improved medical and information technology equipment. The grant funding will allow for “increasing capacity to do more for the patient,” he added.
Deborah Enos, the head of Neighborhood Health Plan, a nonprofit that was started in Fields Corner, noted that the partnership said one barrier that patients face is “fragmented information.” As an example, she used a diabetes patient. The money announced on Monday will be used to help doctors and nurses look at the patient’s history, as well as ensure proper prescriptions, track overall medical information and check if the person is able to get to appointments.

“The doctor can focus on what is really important,” she said.

Health and Human Services Secretary JudyAnn Bigby stopped by the press conference to praise the initiative.

After the session, several of the chiefs gathered around the table to cut a cake.

“This is like a marriage,” quipped Robert Johnson, CEO of the South End Community Health Center, “so cutting a cake is appropriate.”
A day later, Patrick administration officials announced $1.8 million for 32 community health centers to focus on cervical cancer screenings.

The local health centers, which will receive $55,000 each, include the Mattapan Community Health Center, Codman Square Health Center, Harbor Health Services, and the Dorchester House Multi-Service Center.

Citing figures from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Patrick administration said that cervical cancer will be the cause of 4,000 U.S. deaths in 2012. “We know that education and prevention, particularly early cancer screenings, can save lives and lower health care costs in the long run. This is just another way the Affordable Care Act is helping real people across Massachusetts,” Bigby said in a statement, referring to the federal health care law.