A new community health clinic will be operating in Sierra Vista by February, due to an unexpected federal grant of nearly $1 million.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Director Kathleen Sebelius announced Thursday that $150 million in Affordable Care Act funds will be going to 236 health programs in 43 states.
Five of those programs are in Arizona, including the Chiricahua Community Health Centers, which serves about 23,000 people in Cochise County, including about 5,000 seasonal farmworkers.
Chiricahua Community Health Centers, which began in Elfrida and has its head office in the border community of Douglas, received $900,000 of the $3.5 million awarded to Arizona health programs. It’s the largest of any of the Arizona grants announced Thursday by Sebelius.
The other four Arizona programs that received grants were $758,333 to Neighborhood Outreach Access to Health in Scottsdale; $733,333 to North Country Healthcare Inc. in Flagstaff; $758,333 to SMMHC in Apache Junction; and $441,667 to the Sun Life Family Health Center in Casa Grande.
Federal officials say the $3.5 million in funds to Arizona will help care for about 39,000 additional Arizonans.
“This helps us hit an area that often goes unnoticed. We’ve been trying to put a clinic in Sierra Vista for eight years,” said Mac McPherran, chief financial officer for Chiricahua Community Health Centers. “It’s good for the whole community.”
The organization is the largest primary-care provider in Cochise County and also the county’s sole federally qualified community health center. While it operates an administrative office in Sierra Vista and has a mobile health clinic there, it does not have a standing clinic site. Need is high in Sierra Vista, a city about 70 miles southeast of Tucson and the largest metropolitan area in Cochise County, McPherran said.
The Chiricahua community health organization operates clinics in Elfrida, Douglas and Bisbee, in addition to its mobile dental and health clinics.
McPherran said a building will likely be leased for the Sierra Vista clinic, and one of the conditions of the 18-month federal grant is that it must be up and running by February.
The hallmark of community health centers is that they provide comprehensive primary-care coverage regardless of ability to pay.
Arizona health centers served 423,160 patients last year, 27 percent of them uninsured, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said.
Community health centers in the U.S. are critical hubs of care, Cecilia Muñoz, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, told reporters by phone during a news conference this week.
While the federal government is focused on making sure Americans know about signing up for health insurance, Muñoz said boosting access to quality care is just as vital.
Muñoz said the new grant money will provide care to an additional 1.25 million Americans and will be a particular boost to Latinos, who comprise about one-third of community health center patients nationwide.
California received the largest share of federal grants announced Thursday — $31 million for 46 health programs, officials say.
The Affordable Care Act makes $11 billion available to community health centers over a five-year period. The government began awarding money through that provision in 2011.
The allotment for the 2014 fiscal year, which includes Thursday’s $150 million in grants, is about $2.2 billion, said Dr. Mary Wakefield, administrator of the Health Resources and Services Administration.
Wakefield noted that in July, federal funds through the Affordable Care Act provided a separate $150 million to community health centers for outreach and education. Since then, 5,700 people have been trained to help people use the health-insurance marketplaces created through the health law, she said.