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Family Health Centers use state funding to expand services

Family Health Centers Board Chairperson Jacob Gillens, state Department of Health and Human Services Director Tony Keck and state Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter announced a grant to FHC that will expand its dental and mammography services.

State funding is allowing Family Health Centers Inc. to expand its dental service hours and provide mammography screening.

It is receiving $365,000 from a legislative appropriation provided through the South Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.

The Orangeburg-based Family Health Centers Inc. is expanding its dental clinic hours from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, with the clinic to be open from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday. A mammography machine will also be purchased to allow the FHC to conduct mammograms on site.

“We realize that in order to improve our outcome in the dental area, we have to expand the hours. Parents can’t always get off from work to get their kids out of school to take them to the dentist, so expanded hours makes the service available on Saturday and in the afternoon,” said Leon Brunson, chief executive officer of the FHC.

“We have a high rate of people with breast cancer who are not being screened. We can do it in house. Patients can leave their primary care physician to go and get a mammogram, which is very cost effective. We want to be cost effective, but with quality. That’s what Family Health Center built its reputation on,” Brunson said.

State Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, said she appreciated the help of the S.C. Primary Health Care Association in securing the funds.

“When the Primary Care Association met with me in Columbia about funding for their systemwide program, we had conversations about the Family Health Center in Orangeburg and what its needs were. As a result of the work of the association, we were able to secure the funding in the state budget for all of the community health centers statewide,” Cobb-Hunter said.

“The Family Health Center has really evolved and continues to evolve into a fully integrated health care system. This is only a small part of the funding that will go to address the dental needs of patients here, as well as this whole issue of breast cancer and prevention through the mammogram,” she said.

SCPHCA Executive Director Lathran Woodard said, “Our community health centers are stepping up. We know this is needed for patients who may only have coverage for family planning, but what happens if they need to have preventive screenings? So we’ve said, ‘Let’s pick that up and cover that.’”

State DHHS Director Tony Keck said he is excited about the changes at FHC.

“The federal government just approved for us to begin serving all of our adults on Medicaid with preventative dental services, which we’ve never done before. That’s 300,000 new adults, and we need providers to be able to do those services,” Keck said.

“We also have a program that the legislature provided funding for called Healthy Connections Checkup, which provides all of the preventative health screenings, including mammography, to people that are enrolled in the program. Everybody under 190 percent of poverty in the state is eligible to get those free screenings,” he said.

Cobb-Hunter said, “The General Assembly is not interested in just giving out money just to feel good about it. We want to make sure that we’ve got things in place so that when the state Primary Health Care Association comes to us in January and wants to either increase this funding or whatever, they come with some real tangible outcomes that they can point to.”

Keck said creative strategies will have to be used to produce enough providers to take care of patients.

“We have the money, but we need providers who are willing to make themselves available at hours that are convenient for patients, and are willing to do services on site in a quality manner instead of sending them off site somewhere,” Keck said, noting that South Carolina is not alone in finding doctors.

“Even before the Affordable Care Act, there was a shortage, especially in rural areas. There’s still a shortage after the ACA, but that’s why we’ve been making such targeted investments in federally qualified health centers over the past few years, because they have systems that are designed to actually address these shortages,” he said.

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Growing the physician population will not happen overnight, he said.

“We need to use nurses, nurse practitioners and physician assistants. Federally Qualified Health Centers are on the forefront of using teams to care for people, and the rest of the health care system is following behind them,” Keck said.

Cobb-Hunter said, “There are still gaps that we as a General Assembly need to identify to help close that gap. What we’re doing with the community health centers is great, but it should in no way be taken as the solution to our uninsured problem.”

The state’s technical college system and two medical schools will have to be used to “improve, strengthen and expand our health care workforce,” she said.

Woodard said, “Health centers in South Carolina are working with becoming more teaching facilities. How do we partner? We’ve done one in the Upstate with the tech system around dental assistants and dental hygienists. We can be the training ground which is going to help our patients, but it also helps with the workforce and gets people more interested in the community-based services.”

She added, “It’s a delivery system we all need to look at.”

Contact the writer: dgleaton@timesanddemocrat.com and 803-533-5534. Follow “Good News with Gleaton” on Twitter at @DionneTandD.

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