U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer announced Wednesday that the North Country Children’s Clinic will receive a $650,000 Department of Health and Human Services grant that will fund the expansion of clinic operations, including the opening of a site in Lewis County.
The grant will allow the clinic’s site at 238 Arsenal St., Watertown, and the future Lewis County location to become federally qualified health centers. Already serving children’s medical, dental and mental health needs, the clinic also will care for adults, regardless of ability to pay.
“When we can provide health care to parents, and they’re well, they can take better care of their children,” said Amy L. Langone, the clinic’s director of health services. “Since the last time it was in the (Watertown Daily Times) we have gotten call after call. We understand the need is vital.”
The clinic had begun preparing to serve adults, as it recently moved forward with renovating former clinic director’s office space into exam rooms, physician offices, a bathroom and a waiting and reception area. Mrs. Langone said the Children’s Clinic would have proceeded forward to serve adults, with or without the federal assistance.
Executive Director Aileen G. Martin said the $650,000 grant will cover various equipment and resources for the adult primary care clinic and renovations. The Children’s Clinic also would have to hire a clinic manager, a family practice physician and a nurse practitioner for the adult clinic. For substance-abuse counseling, Mrs. Martin said, the clinic would anticipate working with Credo Community Center for the Treatment of Addictions and Samaritan Medical Center.
“The impact (the grant) has for the North Country Children’s Clinic is to ensure stability for the future,” Mrs. Martin said. “As with the rest of the economy, the clinic was hanging by a thread. We’ll still need community support going ahead.”
federally qualified health center status will enroll the Children’s Clinic is what is called a 340-B program, which will let it purchase supplies, such as vaccines, at significantly reduced costs. Mrs. Martin said she anticipates the savings per vaccine alone to be 40 percent to 70 percent. The federal grant will allow the Children’s Clinic to participate in enhanced Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement, according to the Rural Assistance Center, a division of the federal Department of Health and Human Services’ Rural Initiative.
Under this new designation, Mrs. Martin said, the Children’s Clinic will be able to participate with the Federal Tort Claims Act, which would “significantly reduce our malpractice costs, which are about $8,600 per provider, per year.”
Before the clinic dives into this process, its staff members will receive technical assistance from the Community Health Center Association of New York State and the National Association of Community Health Centers for training on how to set up the federally qualified health center.
The clinic will pull double duty, as it will open a similar clinic in Lewis County. Mrs. Martin said the location has yet to be determined, but she is excited to expand primary care health services for low- and moderate-income families.
“There are no pediatricians who take Medicaid in Lewis County,” she said. “People have to go to Public Health, or maybe a family practice. We’re really happy to expand that access to folks.”
She said the clinic will work with Lewis County Public Health and Lewis County General Hospital, Lowville, to identify possible clinic locations.
According to a news release issued Friday by Mr. Schumer’s office, the funds will help address the high rates of diabetes, adult obesity, heart disease mortality, high blood pressure and late or no prenatal care in communities throughout Jefferson and Lewis counties.
“This is a huge win for residents of Jefferson and Lewis County that now will have somewhere to turn for their health care needs,” Mr. Schumer said in the release. “I applaud the Department of Health and Human Services for stepping up to the plate and providing funding to expand North Country Children’s Clinic so that local residents can get the care they need.”
In April, the clinic received a $100,000 grant from the state Health Foundation for startup costs for the primary care services expansion. Support also has been received from the Northern New York Community Foundation and the E.J. Noble Foundation. Samaritan Medical Center donated some slightly used equipment for exam rooms, according to Jennifer C. Hodge, Children’s Clinic director of development.
Mrs. Hodge said the federally qualified health center status won’t change what the clinic is doing; it will simply expand services. The Children’s Clinic already offers dental services to adults. The children’s primary care clinic will remain separate from the adult clinic, including having separate staff.
The clinic originally applied for the federal status last year, but no new designations were given. A total of $128.6 million in grants was awarded Wednesday to community health centers in 41 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Northern Mariana Islands, according to a news release from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The Children’s Clinic was the only health-care facility in the north country to receive such an award. The next closest location is in Pulaski, in the Northern Oswego County Health Services Inc., which received $379,167.