by Kate Shunney
Paw Paw-based Mountaineer Health Clinic is one of 28 health centers in West Virginia to receive $22,161,110 from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act. The Morgan County clinic will receive $540,805.
Hancock-based Tri State Community Health Center is one of 17 Maryland clinics to receive federal funding to respond to the COVID-19 virus pandemic.
Tri State will receive $819,410 in federal funding. That money will be used for its Berkeley Springs primary health clinic, along with four other health centers in Hancock, Fulton County and Cumberland.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced the grants on April 8.
Health centers can use these funds to help their communities “detect coronavirus; prevent, diagnose, and treat COVID-19; and maintain or increase health capacity and staffing levels to address this public health emergency,” HHS officials said in the grant announcement.
Mountaineer Health Clinic serves patients in the western part of Morgan County, and their patient base includes residents of neighboring Hampshire and Allegany Counties.
Mountaineer Community Health Center was established in 1996.
Mountaineer CEO Jason Whipkey said he was surprised by the size of the grant, which he didn’t need to apply for. Whipkey said the Paw Paw clinic will use the funds to keep medical personnel on staff, work with other agencies to serve the community’s health needs, and to make changes in patient care going forward.
COVID-19 will be part of the medical landscape into the future, Whipkey said.
“It’s absolutely going to have a lasting impact on our procedures,” he said.
When vaccines and rapid tests for the disease are available, Mountaineer Community Health Center will make them part of patient primary care.
Whipkey said Paw Paw’s clinic has adjusted to the state’s order to stop person-to-person medical appointments except for urgent needs. Practitioners have shifted to “virtual” visits when they can – checking on patients by video means.
“Or we check on them by telephone if they don’t have internet, which is common in our area,” he said.
Mountaineer Community Health treats roughly 1,200 patients per year. On an average day, the clinic would see 20 patients. Now that’s down to “very few” – maybe five or 10 patients, often by phone. The clinic, which has a staff of 10, is still taking in-person appointments when necessary.
This latest federal grant will keep the medical staff in place as the clinic loses payments they would normally have from patient visits. Whipkey said there are other plans in the works for how to use the money to improve the health of the local community.
Tri State Executive Director Susan Walther said Friday the funding came in from the federal stimulus efforts quickly, and Tri State would use the funding to continue to see patients not only to watch for COVID-19 symptoms but to treat them for other medical issues.
She said community health centers help patients manage medical conditions to keep them out of hospitals and emergency rooms.
“That’s always our goal, but especially now,” she said. Hospitals and emergency departments should be focused on treating the critically-ill.
Walther said Tri State practitioners are now seeing roughly half of their normal patients in local clinics, but are monitoring patients by phone and telehealth channels, too.
None of the clinics who received the grants are serving as public COVID-19 testing sites right now.
Walther said COVID-19 has led to a lot of collaboration and helping between health centers.
“It’s pushed all of us to change our procedures across the board,” she said. “It has you thinking outside the box 15 ways you didn’t before because you didn’t have to.”
Shenandoah Valley Medical System, located in Martinsburg, also serves many Morgan County residents at their regional center. Shenandoah Valley Medical System received $1,090,130 in federal COVID-19 response funds to serve patients in the Eastern Panhandle and the tri-state region.
“HRSA-funded health centers are already playing a critical role by delivering essential services, serving as community testing and screening sites, and alleviating burdens on our nation’s emergency rooms and hospitals. HHS will continue bringing every resource we have to support heroic healthcare workers across the diverse settings health centers serve, from our cities to our rural towns,” said HHS Secretary Alex Azar of the funding.
“HRSA-funded health centers are part of the backbone of our nation’s health care system, serving 1 in 12 people nationwide,” said HRSA Administrator Tom Engels.
” Health centers will put these resources to immediate use to respond to emerging and evolving local needs and continue to deliver high quality primary health care services to their patients.”
For a list of award recipients, visit https://bphc.hrsa.gov/emergency-response/coronavirus-cares-FY2020-awards.