Federal grant gives clinic plan shot in arm

Posted: Thursday, October 04, 2001

The Kenai-Soldotna area will be getting a new health clinic for low-income residents.

Monday, Sen. Ted Stevens and the state of Alaska announced a $650,000 grant to the Bridges Community Resources Network to establish the Central Kenai Peninsula Neighborhood Health Center.

The center, due to open before the end of the year at an as-yet-undecided location, will provide primary medical care and dental services.

"They are really going great guns on this, which is needed," said Jane Stein, president of the Bridges board.

Bridges, a nonprofit umbrella group that supports charitable services and community projects, worked with the informal steering group Healthy Communities-Healthy People to apply for the grant.

The money is part of a $6.5 million grant from the federal Department of Health and Human Services to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services. The funding is for the Alaska Frontier Health Plan, designed to bring basic health-care services to under-served parts of the state.

Other recipient projects around the state include new clinics for Willow, Trapper Creek, Healy, the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, South-east Alaska and expansion of services at other sites including Bethel, Galena and Anchorage, according to a statement from Stevens' office.

Studies on the Kenai Peninsula, cited in the Bridges' grant application, found that the borough as a whole has about 10,000 people eligible for community health benefits and more than 7,000 Medicaid beneficiaries. About 18 percent of residents lack health insurance, and fewer than one in five children eligible for Medicaid are getting preventive dental care.

In 1997, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declared the borough as a medically under-served area, opening the door for community health center funding.

Stein said Bridges and Healthy Communities-Healthy People had been working on the grant since June. Initially, state and federal health officials contacted them and recommended they apply for the grant and provided assistance in putting together the application. The groups also got advice and information from existing clinics in Talkeetna, Fairbanks and Anchorage, where they toured such a facility.

Stein praised all of them for their helpfulness.

"We really had a lot of assistance," she said.

The plans call for about 6,000 square feet of clinic space. The staff will include an executive director, physician, medical assistant, dentist, part-time pediatric dentist, dental hygienist and two dental assistants for the first year. Business aspects such as billing will be contracted out.

The neighborhood clinic will serve the same geographic area as the Central Peninsula General Hospital. Rates will be the same as other medical providers in the area charge, but low-income clients without adequate insurance will receive discounts on a sliding scale based on their income.

Now that the funding is approved, the organizers plan to move rapidly, Stein said.

They have already begun looking at commercial space available and plan to select a site soon, she said.

They will set up a new board of directors to manage the new facility, and Bridges will transition control of the project to the new corporation.

Denali Kid Care administrators, emergency room care providers, dentists and physicians are involved in the planning at this stage. The majority of the board members, under the grant guidelines, must be consumers or potential consumers eligible for the clinic services, she said.

The primary medical care will probably be the first service offered because it is easier to set up, Stein said. But ultimately, the main purpose of the clinic will be to provide more dental care for low-income patients, which she described as an "extreme" need.

The time line set out in the grant sets a goal of offering services within 90 days of the Oct. 1 award.

"We have a lot of work to do, no doubt about it," Stein said.

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