Health clinics in Washington that largely serve low-income and minority residents will receive nearly $7.5 million in federal grants to increase access to primary care. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is awarding more than $295 million to community clinics nationwide, according to an announcement made Friday.
In Washington, the money will go to 25 community health centers that treat medically underserved communities. The grants will help pay for an estimated 104 full-time health-care providers and benefit roughly 40,000 new patients (see full list of recipients below). The Affordable Care Act and its expansion of health-care coverage has increased the number of people seeking medical care, putting added strain on a primary care system that was already stretched thin in places.
“It’s clearly primary care where the drastic shortages occur,” said Dr. Roger Rosenblatt, professor and vice chair of the University of Washington’s Department of Family Medicine. “They’re the foundation.”
Many of the largest grant recipients are in Seattle and the Puget Sound area, including SeaMar Community Health Centers, which was awarded more than $715,000, and HealthPoint, which gets more than $448,000. But grant money is also being spread to numerous clinics in rural areas, which face the greatest challenges in recruiting skilled doctors to their facilities. The largest rural recipient is Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic, which is based in Toppenish, and will received more than $568,000.
Yakima is one of the spots state experts routinely cite as suffering from a chronic shortage of primary care medical providers. There and in other rural communities, residents go without care, wind up in emergency rooms, or make the long drive to urban doctors.
The grants should help ease those shortages. A press release from Health and Human Services states that the money will allow clinics to improve access by hiring “new staff including new health care providers, staying open for longer hours, and expanding the care they provide to include new services such as oral health, behavioral health, pharmacy, and vision services.”
Washington is one of the states that opted to expand the definition of who is eligible for free health care through Medicaid. Since October 2013, more than 350,000 newly eligible adults have signed up for the program, which locally goes by the name Apple Health. And nearly 200,000 adults who previously qualified for Medicaid but had not enrolled have now joined, according to data through the end of July.
The number of people receiving Medicaid in Washington grew by more than 25 percent in the first six months of expanded coverage. The number of residents with individual insurance plans has increased by about 30 percent, though it’s not known how many of those were previously uninsured.
Here’s a list of all of the Washington grant recipients: