State agency loses federal ‘family planning’ grant

A federal health agency has awarded a three-year, $7.8 million Georgia “family planning services” grant to a coalition led by an Atlanta-based community health center.

Family Health Centers of Georgia will work with other federally qualified health centers in the state, Grady Health System and Planned Parenthood to deliver these services to individuals, primarily low-income women. The services are funded through the federal Title X program, and the funds come from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

It’s the first time in 30 years that this family planning grant did not go to Georgia’s public health agency, though the agency did apply for it.

Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald
Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald

Ryan Deal, a spokesman for the Georgia Department of Public Health, said in an email to GHN that Gov. Nathan Deal (no relation) and the agency’s commissioner, Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, “are deeply concerned about the federal government’s decision.”

“At this point, we are uncertain as to the statewide services provided by the Family Health Centers of Georgia, Inc., and their approach to implement services in rural Georgia,’’ Deal said in his statement.

“The federal government has not shared with Georgia Department of Public Health their new approach to ensuring all of Georgia is covered,’’ the statement continued. “Governor Deal has requested that Dr. Fitzgerald review options affecting all Georgians, as more details are shared by the federal government.”

Family Health Centers said Friday that the consortium of federally qualified health centers (FQHCs), Grady and Planned Parenthood will provide statewide coverage, with more than 170 locations in the state.

“FQHCs serve as safety nets in communities throughout Georgia for uninsured and under-insured patients,’’ said Dr. Michael Brooks, CEO of Family Health Centers. “We are confident Georgia Family Planning System can meet the family planning needs of citizens throughout the state, and appreciate the federal government’s vote of confidence in our program. We welcome the support of our public health partners across the state.”

Brooks said Thursday in an interview with GHN that he believed HHS was interested in the idea of merging family planning services with patient-centered “medical homes.”

Dr. Michael Brooks

Medical homes are physician practices that aim to provide more comprehensive, patient-friendly treatment while also curbing health costs. Most federally qualified health centers in Georgia, including Family Health Centers, are in this category.

In medical homes, care for chronic conditions is coordinated under one medical practice that combines the modern-day advantages of computerized medical data with the old-time convenience of having a familiar doctor.

The goals of the family planning grant include reducing unintended pregnancies and providing health care to low-income women who need it the most.

The Title X money cannot be used to fund abortions.

Comprehensive services

Family planning centers offer a broad range of contraceptive methods and related counseling; breast and cervical cancer screening; pregnancy testing and counseling; screening and treatment for STDs; HIV testing; and other patient education and referrals.

A primary goal, Brooks said, “is to create coordinated care for women in Georgia. We can improve health outcomes.”

“It’s really designed for women’s health,’’ said Brooks.

He noted that Georgia has the highest rate of maternal mortality in the country.

Maternal mortality, or “pregnancy-related death,” is defined by the CDC as the death of a woman while she is pregnant or within one year of the end of the pregnancy from any cause related to or aggravated by the pregnancy or its management.

Brooks said the grant will do several things. It will fund health services for women who are not yet pregnant but may become pregnant, focusing on chronic conditions and smoking. It will provide prenatal care during pregnancy. It will deliver post-birth education, teaching women about how to space out their pregnancies. And it will provide birth control for those seeking to prevent unwanted pregnancies.

Brooks said 90 percent of the grant goes to direct patient care.

“We’re trying to be a model for the country,” he said.