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Cardin visits Hancock health center

August 12, 2009|By HEATHER KEELS

More left out of health care forum than let in

Emotions run high at Cardin health care plan forum

HANCOCK -- After more than an hour of fielding questions about health care reform at a town hall meeting Wednesday afternoon in Hagerstown, Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md., made a stop at Tri-State Community Health Center in Hancock, where he quizzed the center's staff with questions of his own.

The official purpose of Cardin's visit was to award the center with a ceremonial check for $1.2 million in federal stimulus funding, but the senator took the opportunity to tour the center and ask staff about its needs.

Tri-State staff members told Cardin some of their biggest challenges include finding transportation assistance for patients and meeting the community's mental health and dental health needs.

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Staff members also spoke to Cardin about the limits posed by traditional health insurance for some of the center's patients.

"The needs of these kids, it's so sad," Dr. Meredith Williams, the center's pediatrician, told Cardin during the tour.

Williams said it is often easier to get mental health coverage for children on Medicaid than those who are covered by traditional insurance.

"There's no question that we have some serious gaps, and it's not just for children, but it's everyone," Williams said.

Cardin told the staff that the objective of health care reform efforts is to fill those gaps, and he said centers like Tri-State will need to have the resources to handle the additional patient numbers created by health care reform.

The $1.2 million awarded Wednesday will help the center address some of those needs, Cardin said.

"Health care reform starts with a general focus on the care of people's needs, and that's why the Federally Qualified Health Centers, we think, are so critically important," Cardin said during a ceremony outside the center.

The Tri-State Community Health Center is one of 16 established Federally Qualified Health Centers in Maryland that will receive more than $16 million in grants from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to enhance existing services to meet expanding need, according to Susan Sullam, a spokeswoman for Cardin.

Tri-State, a community-based, nonprofit organization, operates three primary care facilities and one OB/GYN center in the Tri-State area, Tri-State Community Health Center Chief Operating Officer Sheila Deshong said.

With the help of the stimulus funding, Tri-State will hire an additional physician in its Cumberland, Md., center, add additional exam rooms to the more space-limited centers, purchase medical equipment, and switch from paper charts to electronic medical records, Deshong said.

The organization hopes to be able to move some nonmedical staff out of the Hancock center to make room for more exam rooms, said Tara Scheck, medical director for the Tri-State Community Health Center.

In the past 12 months, the Hancock center has seen 5,954 patients, about 1,239 of which were uninsured, according to a presentation during the ceremony.

The center offers a sliding-scale discount to patients based on family size and income level.

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