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Community Health Center receives federal money

The Community Health Center on Walnut Street will expand services to those without health insurance thanks to a $601,400 federal

The Community Health Center on Walnut Street will expand services to those without health insurance thanks to a $601,400 federal

March 25, 2003|by MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

When the word came Monday that the Community Health Center on Walnut Street had received a $601,400 federal grant to expand services to the uninsured, the Rev. C. Richard Masters breathed a sigh of relief.

"We were worried because we hadn't heard anything," Masters said Monday. As the president of the newly independent board at the center, he learned in mid-afternoon that the money had been awarded.

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson said in a press release Monday that the money would be used to improve access to health care for local residents, especially those without health insurance.

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The converted warehouse, now called the H.W. Murphy Community Health Center at Walnut Street, was opened in December 1999 at that location by Washington County Health Systems. Previously the center had been on Potomac Street.

At the current location, it houses a family practice, a children's dental clinic and social services counseling. It also has programs for prescription drugs, child abuse prevention and early childhood development.

In 2002, state money was secured to remodel the third floor for alcohol and drug abuse treatment and mental health counseling services.

"The center will no longer be a subsidiary of the Washington County Health System," said Barry Nickelsberg, executive director of development, community relations and marketing. "This was the plan from the beginning."

At the same time, the Washington County Health System isn't abandoning the center, Nickelsberg said.

"The hospital is still making a substantial contribution to the effort," he said, characterizing that subsidy as several hundred thousand dollars annually.

Nickelsberg said the expansion of the center, which currently sees about 3,000 people per year, could increase that to around 5,000 per year.

"This is great news for the uninsured and the underinsured who no longer will have to use the hospital emergency room for their medical care," he said. "Dollar for dollar, the center is much less expensive than the emergency room."

New services will include an adult dental care program and improved mental health and substance abuse components, Nickelsberg said.

The award is one of 31 new grants totaling $16 million to help communities across America extend health care services to an estimated 254,000 people, including many without health insurance, according to the press release from Thompson's office.

"It is a wonderful opportunity for us to the expand these services to the community," said Masters, who will be board chairman.

Lending their support to the request for the grant last April were U.S. Sens. Barbara Mikulski and Paul Sarbanes, both D-Md.

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