Community health center looks for help from Specter

May 18, 2004|by DON AINES

Keystone Rural Health Center President Joanne Cochran has plans to consolidate all of her offices and clinical space at one location and Monday got a visit from someone who can help make that a reality.

U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., chairman of the Senate Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Subcommittee, toured Keystone Family Practice at 820 Fifth Ave., one of several health care facilities operated by Keystone in Franklin County.

Although it owns the buildings that house Keystone Family Practice and Keystone Dental Care at 767 Fifth Ave., Cochran said the nonprofit community health center leases several other properties at a cost of $200,000 a year. She said she wants all the clinical and administrative offices on one campus at the family practice location and has applied for a $1 million federal grant to get started.


"It would be so much easier for our patients, the one-stop shopping concept," Cochran said of the idea, which she said would cost an estimated $4 million to accomplish.

She said she hopes to bring Keystone's dental, pediatric, women's care and cardiology practices together, along with the administrative offices for the health center and its migrant farmworker program.

While about half of the approximately 40,000 people treated by Keystone in Franklin County are poor, the other half are paying patients with medical insurance. Cochran said the pediatric practice was added last September and the cardiology practice on Jan. 1.

The group also operates Keystone Farmworker Programs, serving about 12,000 migrant workers in Pennsylvania, Cochran said.

There were more than 112,000 patient visits to Keystone last year, she said.

"There's nothing more important than health care," Specter said after the tour. Without good health, he said, people cannot work, go to school, raise families and lead productive lives.

"It's a major capital investment for America," said Specter, who said more than 40 million Americans lack health insurance.

Despite that, Specter said the federal government has a lot on its agenda and a large budget deficit. He said discretionary spending in this year's budget rose only 0.5 percent, less than the rate of inflation, while the war on terror, the war in Iraq and homeland security are consuming large portions of federal expenditures.

C.Q. Smith, a former member of Keystone's board of directors, asked Specter what Congress plans to do about the rising cost of prescription drugs. The Medicare reform act passed last year failed to allow for reimportation of drugs from Canada and competition for government purchasing of medicines.

"Both will be revisited," Specter said.

The Senate has already voted for reimportation and "the federal government should be able to bargain with the major pharmaceutical companies. They're big enough to take care of themselves," he said.

Those provisions did not make it into the House version of the bill, which passed by just one vote, Specter said.

Specter said some increases are due to new technologies, but the government also is looking into the practices of major health-care insurers and pharmaceutical companies.

Cochran said the grant is critical to the consolidation of Keystone, which employs 180 doctors, nurses and other staff and has a budget of $10.7 million. The dental care center received a $100,000 federal grant last year, she said.

"That was my warmer-upper," Cochran said. If half the money can be raised from federal and other sources, she said Keystone can handle the mortgage on the balance.

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