HHS awards $95 million to school health centers

Funding from the health system reform law goes out despite objections from House Republicans.

By Charles Fiegl — Posted July 21, 2011

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The Obama administration awarded $95 million to build or renovate 278 school-based health centers across the country, the Dept. of Health and Human Services announced July 14.

Grants, which range from $10,000 to $500,000, were awarded to centers in 41 states and the District of Columbia. Clinics receiving the money serve communities where a large percentage of the population is eligible for assistance from Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program.

For example, Health Establishments at Local Schools received a $313,000 grant that will help the organization's clinics become part of a medical home project in Huntsville, Ala., said HEALS Executive Director Connie Carnes. HEALS is working to coordinate patient care with physician practices and other facilities through its electronic medical record system.

"We'll be part of a model that will keep our kids healthy and keep them out of the ERs," Carnes said. HEALS operates four clinics and is planning to launch at least two more. The federal grant also provides new pediatric care equipment needed for the facilities, she said.

The money can be used only for construction, equipment and other capital needs, said Mary Wakefield, PhD, administrator of the Health Resources and Services Administration under HHS. The dollars can't be used to support personnel, salary or the health services the clinics provide to patients.

House Republicans have objected to several spending provisions in the health system reform law, including the $200 million fund to build and support the school-based health centers. The House voted to strip the funding from the statute on May 4, but the legislation has not moved in the Senate. GOP lawmakers said the reform law did not provide funding to staff new clinics and that building new facilities without ensuring proper staffing would waste taxpayer money.

The Obama administration reviewed 356 applications for funds. Those receiving grants had outlined plans for the money and showed that school-based health clinic structures were in place, said James Macrae, a HRSA official.

Neighborcare Health will use most of its $500,000 grant to construct a health center at a middle school in Seattle, said Colin Walker, a school-based program manager for the community health care system. Funding for staff won't be a problem, he said. The center would draw money from a seven-year local levy for such programs, which voters are set to renew this fall. The center is expected to open at the start of the 2012 school year.

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