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 from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced the grants on April 8.
In total, Maryland health centers will see an additional $15,625,030 in federal funds during the health crisis.
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.
Tri State operates primary care health clinics in Hancock, Berkeley Springs, Fulton County and Cumberland, and a women’s health clinic in Cumberland. Its administrative offices are located in Hancock.
Tri State serves roughly 200,000 patients in its five clinic locations. Executive Director Susan Walther said Friday the centers employ roughly 180 people in three states.
Walther said 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 screen for COVID-19 symptoms but to continue to treat them for other medical issues.
“We’re continuing to see patients and keep them well and track their symptoms,” Walther said. She said community health centers always aim to treat patients and help them 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.
Tri State clinics have a tent up at each location so patients can pull up and be screened for symptoms before they enter clinic buildings.
None of the clinics are serving as public COVID-19 testing sites right now, said Walther.
“We don’t have testing kits. We had a few but they have not been replenished,” she said.
All of the patients Tri State providers have tested for COVID-19 have been negative for the virus, said Walther.
If a patient calls in with symptoms that match the viral disease, including a fever, dry cough, sore throat, Tri State personnel are monitoring them in their homes, where they are being asked to self-quarantine.
Federal health center funds will be used for staffing, operating expenses and to get the personal protective equipment Tri State needs for its medical staff, “if they’re purchaseable,” Walther said.
Clinics need to retain their medical staff to keep caring for patients, whether that’s in person at the five health centers or by other means.
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.”
“One of the positive outcomes of this situation is we’re all learning, working together,” Walther said.
“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. “Increasingly, people are turning to health centers for the first line of defense in combating emergency public health priorities like the novel coronavirus. 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.