While U.S. Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Kan., was visiting Mt. Carmel Regional Medical Center to talk about health care reform, the Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas received word that it would have more resources to help with its version of reform at the local level.

While U.S. Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Kan., was visiting Mt. Carmel Regional Medical Center to talk about health care reform, the Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas received word that it would have more resources to help with its version of reform at the local level.
CHC/SEK officials found out Thursday that they will receive $825,981 through the Health Center Program within the Health and Human Services branch headed by new Secretary, and former Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. CHC/SEK’s award was one portion of $81.7 million allocated to expand services offered at the nation’s health centers, and it represented the only grant received by a Kansas facility.
“The economic downturn is hurting all of us and when workers lose their jobs, they often lose their health insurance, too,” Sebelius said. “Community health centers provide essential care for families across the country that do not have insurance or cannot afford the high cost of care. The Recovery Act grants and the funding we have released are key investments that will help deliver care to millions of Americans.”
Krista Postai, CHC/SEK chief executive officer, said the grants were awarded based on the increasing number of uninsured patients that health centers were seeing. She said the extra money would go toward the center’s support services and hiring specific staff for that purpose.
“It will help to take a lot of stress off our organization,” Postai said.
Visitors to Pittsburg in the past, including Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., have lauded the CHC/SEK as a key piece in health care reform through its level of community-based care. Postai said community-based care should be a large component in a health care reform plan, one that she said faced two major issues.
The first issue, she said, was the lack of available health care.
“We’re still seeing about 50 percent of the people who visit us are without insurance, and we are still seeing a number of children without coverage,” Postai said. “So an increase in coverage would be the number one thing we would like to see. I don’t have a preference on what shape or form that takes.”
Postai said that lack of coverage often affected the level of care people received. She said a recent survey showed that one-fourth of southeast Kansans put off going to the doctor because of money concerns. That also means that when CHC/SEK does see a patient, their disease or condition is often further along.
“Most people only go to the doctor if they have to,” Postai said. “So sometimes we see cancer patients, and we often see diabetes patients where it’s in the later stages. They had been showing symptoms earlier, but they came in later when we couldn’t treat things as easily.”
But Postai said making health care more accessible also could create potential logjams at doctors’ offices.
“So there’s a workforce issue there as well,” Postai said. “What good is having health insurance if you can’t get in to see the doctor?”
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) provides $2 billion for grants to health centers over a two-year period. Five-hundred million dollars will be used to support new health center sites and service areas, increase services at existing sites, and address spikes in uninsured populations. The additional $1.5 billion will be used to support construction, renovation and equipment, including health information technology systems, in health centers and health center controlled networks.
The non-Recovery Act grants awarded Thursday include $25.6 million to expand medical capacity at 54 existing health centers, helping an additional 230,000 individuals in 25 states receive primary health care services.  The remaining $56.1 million will supplement all health centers' base grant awards to offset rising costs associated with maintaining current service levels.
HHS has already awarded approximately $155 million in Recovery Act grant funds to support 126 community health center sites across the country.
“That was incredibly good news today,” Postai said. “We are incredibly appreciative of all the help we receive, and we’re going to keep working to do our part.
“Could we prevent all those problems? No. But could we impact them? Absolutely. It’s almost like solving world hunger. You have to start one day at a time and one person at a time. We’re starting to see waves of positive things.”