April 25, 2014

Elyria
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Fed grant denial may force clinic cuts

LORAIN — The financially beleaguered Lorain County Health & Dentistry was dealt a blow Friday that may force the center to reduce services and relocate from downtown to its smaller clinic on the southern edge of town.
The center at 1600 Livingston Ave. had been banking on a $650,000 federal grant, which would have more than made up for the $600,000 in annual support that Community Health Partners discontinued last year in the wake of its own financial problems.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources notified the center this week that its grant application was denied.
Stephanie Wiersma, the clinic’s executive director, said Friday that about 300 community health centers in the nation applied for the federal funds, but only 86 grants were available.
“While not being selected is a reflection of limited dollars and not need or quality of operation, this is still deeply troubling,” Wiersma said.
The clinic’s Board of Directors will meet Monday night to discuss what measures it can take to keep the center viable.
The clinic most likely will have to limit the number of uninsured medical and dental patients it treats, reduce its medical services and ration dental care if other funding sources are not found, Wiersma said.
Other cost-cutting measures may include closing the clinic’s main facility on Livingston Avenue and consolidating remaining services in the clinic’s smaller facility on Grove Avenue, Wiersma said.
“Those who are uninsured will feel it first,” she said. “I can’t imagine a community as closeknit and caring as ours with so much demonstrated need not coming together to assure that affordable primary health continues to be available to the underserved in Lorain County.”
She hopes that local leaders will help address the problem and find local funding.
“Every day I see the faces of those we serve, and I can’t fathom turning them away,” Wiersma said. “These people are our working poor. They are our neighbors. They need and deserve our care. We are praying that this crisis will bring about a miracle in Lorain County.”
The clinic’s annual budget is $3.8 million. In 2006, the center provided more than $600,000 in uncompensated, uninsured care, Wiersma said.
“I don’t see how we can maintain that level of current uninsured care. That’s the kind of decision making we’ll be looking at with the board,” Wiersma said.
Of the more than 13,000 individuals treated at the center last year, about 2,500 were uninsured, she said.
CHP ended its financial support last fall as it grappled with its own problems — a $1.6 million loss by October 2006.
Kim Cooper, the chairman of the clinic’s board, said when CHP cut its funding, the clinic identified every cost saving short of denying service.
“We even went to the desperate measure of asking our patients for donations,” Cooper said.
In January, however, CHP agreed to provide the clinic with $125,000 annually if the center could find three other groups to match that amount each year.
“We were not able to secure even one grant,” Wiersma said Friday. “We raised a much smaller amount but nothing near that amount, and we don’t anticipate that coming.”
CHP also forgave a $500,000 debt and reduced the clinic’s rent from $19,000 a month to $1 a month for six months, or until June 1.
Hospital representatives and the clinic’s board members will discuss the rent at a Monday meeting.
“We anticipate their assistance is over with the rent, but we’re grateful for the time they were able to give it to us,” Wiersma said.
Jennifer Kennedy, spokeswoman for CHP, said the company’s offer to provide the matching funding still stands.
“We are hopeful they will continue to serve the community,” Kennedy said.
Wiersma said she didn’t know when the clinic would relocate to the Grove Avenue facility.
“It will be up to the board to make the decision,” she said.
Contact Bette Pearce at 329-7148 or bpearce@chroniclet.com.