Health centers awarded $611K

Nearly 40 health centers statewide recently were awarded a combined total of $11 million to respond to the opioid crisis in their respective communities, including Susquehanna Community Health and Dental Clinic Inc., best known as River Valley Health and Dental on Hepburn Street, and North Penn Comprehensive Health Services in Wellsboro.

River Valley received $326,000 while North Penn received $285,000.

The funding comes from the federal Health Resources and Services Administration for substance use disorder and mental health services.

River Valley will split its share in half to add positions, whether hired or contracted, to help more patients with substance use disorder and to start up a “tele-site” program for services including psychiatry — something President and CEO Jim Yoxtheimer described as “sophisticated Skype.”

“It’s a wonderful opportunity,” Yoxtheimer said of the grant. “It’s going to add resources for our patients to receive treatment both for substance use disorder and mental health right in their primary care environment — that’s really key. Folks aren’t having to go out to other locations, they’ve become comfortable in our environment and with their providers.”

North Penn also will add positions and create programs using its share.

“North Penn will be utilizing its recent $285,000 grant by improving access to integrated services, increasing personnel and enhancing infrastructure,” said Jim Nobles, president and CEO. “We also plan to enhance the capabilities of our Electronic Medical Record to allow for more integrated services with UPMC Susquehanna’s Addictive Medicine department. Additionally, we will be recruiting a clinical quality nurse to focus on quality care gaps for the system and a behavioral health RN care coordinator to coordinate care even more seamlessly between the Laurel Health Centers’ primary care, Laurel Behavioral Health and UPMC Susquehanna.”

North Penn also received three other monetary awards totaling over $50,000 and its Laurel Health Centers were the only federally qualified health centers in the state to receive the National Quality Leader Award for 2018 based on its clinical quality in chronic disease management, preventive care and perinatal and prenatal care.

The Health Resources and Services Administration funds are intended to support health centers in implementing and advancing evidence-based strategies to expand access to these services with focus on conditions that increase the risk for or co-occur with substance use disorder, according to the state Association of Community Health Centers.

Cheri Rinehart, the association’s CEO, provided statistics supporting the use of these funds upon announcing the awards, stating nearly 5,500 people died of drug-related overdoses statewide in 2017, which is a 64 percent increase from 2015.

“This funding will have an important impact on the people and communities served by community health centers across the commonwealth,” Rinehart said in the announcement.