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RCCHC scores $6.2 million grant

Roanoke-Chowan Community Health Center CEO Kim Schwartz receives a hug from one of her employees while others line-up for congratulatory remarks after Friday’s announcement of $6.2 million in federal funds headed to Ahoskie. Staff Photo by Cal Bryant

AHOSKIE – What has been a banner two years for Roanoke-Chowan Community Health Center, Inc. (RCCHC) just got better.

Amid cheers, rousing applause and hugs here Friday afternoon, Kim Schwartz, Chief Executive Officer for RCCHC, broke the news to her employees – the organization is the recipient of a $6,224,395 grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

RCCHC will use the money to bankroll its plans to build what Schwartz referenced as a “one-stop shop” for primary medical care, pediatrics and behavioral health. That new medical center will be built off Hertford County High School Road.

In conjunction with the new RCCHC facility, the East Carolina University Medical and Dental School will open a service learning center in Ahoskie. That stand-alone center, which will join RCCHC’s new facility, will be staffed full-time by ECU Dental School students (completing their residency obligations) and school faculty.

“With Colerain building a brand new building; Murfreesboro (office) expansion, the only Community Health Center in the nation to receive a quality improvement grant; the tele-health network grant we received and now this fully funded grant to build our new center; these are exciting times for Roanoke-Chowan Community Health Center,” Schwartz said in front of her employees gathered inside the waiting room of the Ahoskie Family Physicians office on Academy Street.

The national funds for RCCHC are the largest of the four healthcare entities in North Carolina receiving grants. Nationally, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced Friday awards of $727 million to 143 community health centers across the country to address pressing construction and renovation needs and expand access to quality healthcare.  The funds are the first in a series of awards that will be made available to community health centers under the Affordable Care Act.

“What this means for us is offering healthcare services to potentially 5,000 to 10,000 new patients, more space and at least 15 new full-time positions in addition to up to 60 new jobs for construction of the facility,” Schwartz noted. “Additionally, this investment represents an immeasurable amount of tax benefit to our area.”

She also stressed that such a facility could be used as a tool to recruit new doctors and other medical providers.

“You drove this…our need for this; you have open your arms and your hearts to make this happen,” said Schwartz to the RCCHC employees, including ones at the Colerain and Murfreesboro offices listening to the announcement by telephone.

With the federal funds secured, Schwartz said groundbreaking on the new facility is planned for January, in conjunction with one planed for ECU’s service learning center. She noted that the grant money is required to be spent by December of 2012.

“We’ve got to get rolling on this project,” Schwartz told the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald after the official announcement was made to the RCCHC employees. “Our issue right now is to get the architect in line on what we want in this new office. We know where we will build this and we know the size (36,000 square feet) we need.”

Schwartz estimated a 12-to-16 month construction period.

“The impact such a facility will have on this community will be felt for a long time, long after I’m gone,” Schwartz noted. “And having the ECU Dental service center right next door only adds to that impact. These are two win-win projects.”

“Congratulations to everyone for a job well done,” said Claudia Morris, Chair of the RCCHC Board of Directors. “The most important message here is that community health centers are going to be the key to the way healthcare is delivered in this country. With this grant we will truly be a leader for access to healthcare in this community. This announcement is the most important event in the healthcare of this community. I’ve spent all my adult life promoting quality healthcare and this is a wonderful day to see this happen.”

The new medical center and dental facilities will be built on land recently deeded to RCCHC and ECU by Roanoke-Chowan Alliance. That entire property is 27.6 acres and includes the current RCCHC building, Northside Behavioral Health and ViQuest. The buildings will be constructed in the southwest corner of a now empty parcel of land behind those facilities.

Counting the federal funds received by RCCHC, North Carolina gained more than $19 million in grants from HHS. It is estimated these awards will serve approximately 20,117 new patients.

Across the country, community health centers serve nearly 19 million patients, about 40 percent of whom have no health insurance. Community health centers deliver preventive and primary care services at more than 7,900 service delivery sites around the country to patients regardless of their ability to pay; charges for services are set according to income.

“There is no question that the economic downturn has made it harder for some Americans to get healthcare and important preventive services,” HHS Secretary Sebelius said in a press released sent on Friday. “Community Health Centers provide quality healthcare services to Americans across the country, but are a life line for those who have lost coverage or are between jobs.  These funds from the Affordable Care Act will help get more people care in some communities where there have not been many options in the past.”

“Many of these community health centers need more modern space to meet the increasing patient demand for services. These funds will help community health centers build new facilities and modernize their current sites in their continuing effort to provide the best care possible to more and more people in need,” said HRSA Administrator Mary K. Wakefield, Ph.D., R.N.

Over the next five years, the Affordable Care Act provides $11 billion in funding for the operation, expansion and construction of community health centers across the country.  This expansion of sites and services will help community health centers to serve nearly double the number of patients receiving care, regardless of their insurance status or ability to pay.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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