5 health centers get $11 million from feds

Five Georgia community health centers will receive a total of $11 million in grants to expand and improve their services, the federal government announced Tuesday.

The Georgia money is part of $728 million nationally that will go to hundreds of community health centers across the country, under the 2010 health reform law.

A Stone Mountain health center highlighted in a recent Kaiser Health News article for scoring poorly on six care measures will get the largest amount awarded in Georgia. Oakhurst Medical Centers will receive $5 million to construct a larger facility.

Jeffrey Taylor, Oakhurst’s CEO, said the building will be in a more visible location, on Memorial Drive. “People now drive by our [current] facility and head to Grady’s emergency room,’’ Taylor told GHN. “They don’t know we’re there.’’

The new Oakhurst building will serve more people and provide more wellness activities, he said. Taylor said he believes it will help improve the center’s care. Many of the health center’s patients are refugees who have not had regular medical care, including children who have not received vaccinations.

The second-highest grant in Georgia is $4.9 million to the Neighborhood Improvement Project for a new building in south Augusta.

The new facility will be six times larger than the current one, which is “inadequate and crowded,’’ said Janice Sherman, CEO of the Augusta health center. “There is a lot of need here.’’

The number of examination rooms will increase from five to 12, said Sherman, who added that the facility aims to double the number of patients it sees within five years.

Federal officials said Tuesday that the grants were part of a competitive process focused around a community’s needs and other factors. More than 700 applications were received.

The health reform law, also known as the Affordable Care Act, will award a total of $11 billion to community health centers around the United States. The nation’s nearly 1,200 community health centers now provide care to about 20 million Americans at 8,500 locations. Georgia has 137 centers run by 27 organizations.

Mary Wakefield, head of the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration, said the centers’ patient load has increased by 3 million since 2009. A high percentage of patients belong to minority groups and have low incomes. The grant funds announced Tuesday “are already in the pipeline,’’ Wakefield said.

When asked what will happen to the money if the Supreme Court overturns the reform law, Cecilia Muñoz, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, said the White House is not going to speculate on what the court will decide. The decision on a challenge to the law is expected next month.

Three other community health centers in Georgia will get funding for facility and equipment needs: Curtis V. Cooper Primary Health Center in Savannah, $500,000; Albany Area Primary Health Care in Albany, $487,236; and West End Medical Centers in Atlanta, $238,087.