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Funds sought for health center

BRISTOL — Those seeking to establish a federally subsidized health clinic in Bristol are looking for new funds after learning that a federal grant won’t come through this year.
The Five Town Health Alliance (5THA) had sought $650,000 to outfit a Federally Qualified Health Center, or FQHC, and pay the salaries of administrative staff. But due to late-April budget cuts, manifest in legislation known as a continuing resolution, the pool of money available for FQHCs was cut by almost one quarter.
“There was enough money (originally) appropriated to allow for 400 health centers to be created nation wide, and there were 800 applications, so that’s a pretty good chance of getting funded, but when the continuing resolution was passed that money was reduced,” said David Reynolds, senior health policy advisor to Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.
The federal health care reform bill initially allocated $350 million for projects like the 5THA, said Reynolds, but after the budget cuts, only $90 million remained.
“In general when you talk about cutting the expenditures of federal government, in the abstract people can agree to that, but this is a vivid example of how this impacts real local people in Vermont,” he added.
Of the 800 prospective FQHCs that applied, only 67 won grants. No Vermont candidates were funded and only one New England grant was issued, which was in Hartford, Conn.
Only areas with extreme need won grants, said Reynolds.
“When it is as need-based as it is, and you have fewer dollars to go around, there are such critical areas in the Southeast where not only do people not have access to care, but their Medicare programs are very deficient,” he said. “The grants also fund special populations like migrants and the homeless, who would have a much higher need than Bristol at this point.”
Need was evaluated based on a point system, and the lowest scoring recipient scored 102. According to Kate Simmons, manager of Vermont Operations for the Bi-state Primary Care Association, which wrote the grant application for 5THA, the most Bristol could have scored was 100 points because it didn’t fall under any classifications of extreme need.
Bristol’s official score will be returned by Sept. 30, said Reynolds, and it will include a review of the application’s strengths and weaknesses. High scoring applicants will remain on file next year, so they will not be required to re-file. If funding should arise, the applicants on file will already be in line to accept.
There is reason to still be optimistic about the health center’s future, Reynolds indicated.
“All is not lost,” he said. “It’s very rare that an application gets funded on its first go around. There is a better likelihood this (next) time … but just about all of the Federally Qualified Health Centers in Vermont were not successful on their first go around.”
At its next meeting on Monday, Aug. 29, 5THA officials will discuss future prospects and strategies for establishing a nonprofit health and dental center in Bristol.
“We’re trying to get our feet on the ground and figure out which direction to take, said 5THA President Nancy Marnellos. “Everybody’s going to have to put their heads together and see what possible direction we can go in.”
Simmons still holds out hope for the facility.
“I’ve worked with this group for the past five years and they’re incredibly dedicated volunteers,” she said. “They’re really community minded and have persevered in the past, so I have no doubt that they’ll persevere into the future.”
Reporter Andrew Stein is at [email protected].

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