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Millions Coming to Expand NM Community Health Centers

May 7, 2012

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - Some New Mexico clinics that serve uninsured and lower-income people are getting money to expand their facilities. The Department of Health and Human Services is making the grants to community health centers across the nation, as part of the Affordable Care Act.

One recipient is Albuquerque Health Care for the Homeless. Its executive director, Winona Stoltzfus, says the expansion plans will allow her agency to increase the number of people served at its drop-in center.

"People who are living on the street often have experiences when they're homeless that make them reluctant to receive services. Some are not familiar with how to engage with service agencies so they can get the help they need. The drop-in center lets us build a relationship with them first."

More than $8 million is coming to community health centers in New Mexico - about $3.5 million to Albuquerque Health Care for the Homeless, and $5 million to Presbyterian Medical Services in Santa Fe. This round of funding is unique because federal funds are usually allocated only for patient care. The money should not only improve health care access, but create construction jobs as the projects get under way.

Tom Van Coverden heads the National Association of Community Health Care Centers. He says there has been broad bipartisan support for community health centers, but the last big push to expand them was during the Bush years.

"Policymakers on both sides realize that even if you're fortunate enough to have an insurance card, you need a place to go. If there's a 'medical home' - a place that really is helping them to stay healthy - there would be a long-range benefit in cost savings for everybody."

This funding through the Affordable Care Act is part of a plan to double the capacity of the community health center system by 2015. The money has already been allocated, and the health-center expansion has bipartisan support.

Beth Blakeman, Public News Service - NM