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Medical stimulus heading to R-C

A pair of Roanoke-Chowan area agencies are among the 27 community health centers across the state to receive money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The stimulus funds could not come at a better time for Roanoke-Chowan Community Health Center Inc. (RCCHC), based in Ahoskie, and Bertie County Rural Health Association (BCRHA) of Windsor. Both are seeing rapid growth in the number of uninsured patients visiting their facilities as more and more Americans are losing their jobs (and medical insurance) during the current economic downturn.

According to Kim Schwartz, CEO of RCCHC, the number of uninsured patients seen by her organization’s medical staff has doubled since last year, now standing in the neighborhood of 17 percent of the total number of patients served.

Meanwhile, the number of insured patients seen by RCCHC staff was dwindling as individuals, hit hard by the deepening recession, delayed visits to the doctor’s office.

“The downturn in the economy hit us hard, just like it has everyone else,” Schwartz said. “We were facing the possibility of laying off seven staff members.”

Instead, RCCHC opted to reduce its employees’ work hours, going from a routine 40-hour workweek to 32, a mandate that took affect March 1.

Now with $220,256 of federal stimulus money heading their way, RCCHC is planning on using a 36-hour work week as well as replacing a medical provider’s position at its Colerain Clinic that was lost due to a relocation.

Over in Windsor, BCRHA Executive Director Dr. Al Thompson confirmed his group will receive $219,431 in federal stimulus money.

Thompson said the funding will be used in an effort to “expand our ability to serve a greater number of patients.”

BCRHA will begin a Saturday morning clinic (9 a.m. until 12 noon) and continue their Thursday evening clinic, one that sees patients until 7 p.m.

Additionally, Bertie Rural Health, which currently employs 23 individuals, will add one to that staff. Dr. Thompson said the new position, one created through the stimulus funds, will be used to identify Bertie County residents who currently do not have a home for healthcare services.

“That person will reach out to our local churches as well as using DSS (Department of Social Services) to help us identify those in need of medical services who are not currently seeing a medical provider,” he said. “We also want to reach out to those who may have lost their jobs, and their medical insurance as well, that we are here to serve them.”

Schwartz echoed those thoughts.

“This funding helps us to continue to meet the medical needs of the communities we serve,” she noted. “We can’t ignore those in need, those who have no other medical alternative due to job loss.”

All totaled, 27 community health centers in the state will receive $8.6 million to expand services. Those funds, funneled through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, are projected to provide care to an additional 41,288 patients statewide over the next two years.

Pending in the federal stimulus package is $1.5 billion in infrastructure grants. Both Schwartz and Thompson said they were waiting to see if their agencies will qualify for any of that funding.