Miami-Dade community health centers win government grants

More than a dozen Florida community health centers — including seven in Miami-Dade County — were awarded $8.3 million in grants Thursday to expand their practices and hire more physicians, nurses, dentists, psychologists and other providers in an effort to increase Americans’ access to healthcare under the Affordable Care Act, federal officials announced.

The grants from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services are part of a national effort by the federal government, which awarded about $150 million to 236 health centers in 43 states, including 16 centers in Florida.

Seven centers in Miami-Dade will share more than $3.9 million, with the largest single amounts awarded to Borinquen Health Care Center in Miami and the Center for Family and Child Enrichment in Miami Gardens. Each received grants of $775,000.

Altogether, Florida’s grants will help deliver healthcare to approximately 73,000 Floridians who otherwise may not have had access to care. Florida has 48 health centers that served 1.1 million patients in 2012, with about 44 percent of them uninsured, according to HHS.

Mary Wakefield, a registered nurse and administrator for the Health Resources and Services Administration, an agency within HHS, said the grants were written into the healthcare reform law. She said the ACA set aside $11 billion to be awarded over five years, beginning in 2011, to support the expansion of community health centers. Total grants to be awarded for 2014, including the ones announced Thursday, will total $2.2 billion.

“All of us in the Obama administration are working hard to make sure that Americans who aren’t in the healthcare system finally get in,’’ Wakefield said.

Wakefield added that community health centers can use the grants to hire more providers or to rent new healthcare delivery sites, but not for the construction of new clinics. They can also use the funds to purchase medical equipment.

But the emphasis, Wakefield said, will be on providing more primary care services that will help individuals manage chronic diseases and prevent illnesses.

Nationwide about 1,200 community health centers operate more than 9,000 delivery sites that provide care to more than 21 million patients in every state, according to HHS.

Thursday’s grants are the latest round to be awarded to community health centers as part of the ACA. In July, HHS awarded 46 grants totaling $8 million to 46 Florida health centers to hire about 160 outreach workers who would help uninsured individuals obtain health coverage through the federally run online marketplace, or exchange.

“Today’s investment,’’ Wakefield said, “is about expanding service capacity.’’

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