The community-wide collaboration to access federal funding to expand primary and preventive health care services within the City of Reading advanced closer to its goal with the announcement that the Berks Community Health Center (BCHC) will open June 4 at the site of the current Reading Health Dispensary.
A formal memorandum of understanding will transition the operations of The Reading Health Dispensary at 838 Penn Street from The Reading Hospital to the community-led, non-profit Berks Community Health Center. This was announced jointly today by the two organizations.
At the same time, BCHC Board Co-Chairs Judge Arthur E. Grim and Gary Rightmire affirmed that BCHC has applied to the US Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) for immediate designation as a New Access Point Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC).
FQHCs are independent, community-based organizations that receive higher levels of federal reimbursement for providing primary care services in targeted underserved areas to people of all ages. They are also able to offer other services, such as dental and mental health care, either on site or in collaboration with other organizations.
New Access Point designation comes with an annual federal grant to help defray the cost of free and reduced-fee care that would be provided by the Berks Community Health Center. HRSA is expected to announce New Access Point designations for the 2012 budget year within the next two months.
"We are very hopeful that the Berks Community Health Center will receive FQHC designation in this round of funding," noted Mr. Rightmire, retired Berks County Department of Public Welfare executive. "Our application was scored by HRSA with no weaknesses. And because Reading is the poorest city in the nation, Reading's need is certainly as great, if not greater than, any other city in the nation."
The initial application to establish an FQHC in Reading was submitted by BCHC to HRSA in December 2010 following a feasibility study completed by the Drexel University School of Public Health. The formation of BCHC in October 2010 was supported by a broad group of community organizations which included the United Way of Berks County, the Berks County Community Foundation, the Wyomissing Foundation and the Berks County Medical Society, along with both area hospitals. Due to a severe reduction in the anticipated number of grants awarded during the latest review cycle, only 67 of approximately 800 applications nationwide were approved in August 2011.
"A community health center will be a wonderful resource not just for the City of Reading, but for the entire county," emphasized Judge Grim, "even more so today when families are facing the unexpected loss of jobs and health benefits. Options to expand services to include dental and mental health care will be explored quickly."
According to Mr. Rightmire, one of the main purposes of an FQHC is to provide ongoing health care that keeps people from having to seek services through hospital Emergency Departments. In response to ""strong demand," he notes, the Berks Community Health Center will offer evening appointments to support the delivery of primary and preventive care.
The transition of operations to Berks Community Health Center should be transparent to current Reading Health Dispensary patients. Their records will automatically be transferred.
Also, BCHC will continue to accept Medicare, Medical Assistance, CHIP, and commercial insurance plans, and will have a sliding-fee scale for individuals who have no insurance or limited insurance to receive care at an affordable cost.
The Reading Health Dispensary was established by The Reading Hospital in 2000 to help address the health needs of the medically underserved residents of the city. Open by appointment each weekday with drop-in care each weekday evening through an Urgent Care Center, RHD has operated at an annual loss of $3.1 million.
"The Reading Hospital is proud of our commitment and ability to provide safety net services through centers like The Reading Health Dispensary," notes Clint Matthews, President and Chief Executive Officer of The Reading Hospital. "But the opportunity for a higher level of reimbursement through the establishment of an FQHC means that even more patients will be able to receive high quality care without the financial burden to themselves or the community at large."
He continued, "Both The Reading Hospital and the Berks Community Health Center leadership are committed to a smooth transition and to keeping our patients and community updated on this important initiative."