U.S. Health and Human Services Acting Regional Director Jay Angoff praised Lawrence’s Heartland Community Health Center for providing medical care to anyone regardless of their health status and income.
“You are really doing God’s work, and it really is a very heartening thing to see,” he said, during a brief presentation Wednesday at the clinic, which was attended by about 40 residents, including Douglas County commissioners Nancy Thellman and Jim Flory and leaders from nonprofit community health organizations.
Angoff visited Heartland, located in the east end of the Riverfront Mall, to officially congratulate its staff and board on receiving a $650,000 renewable annual federal grant in June as part of being designated a Federally Qualified Health Center. The clinic also will receive enhanced Medicaid and Medicare reimbursement and at-cost drug pricing.
“The secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services has and will always have a soft spot in her heart for Kansas. That doesn’t mean you were given any preferential treatment,” he said, of former Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, which provoked laughter from the crowd. “You got the award you deserve, and she’s particularly happy to be able to give it.”
The grant will allow the center to hire more staff and purchase equipment that will enable it to provide more services and take care of more people. The center currently has about 5,000 patients, and Heartland CEO Jon Stewart expects that to double in the first year.
Angoff said he was pleased that Heartland addresses mental health needs because so many people don’t seek help because of the stigma associated with it. He also praised Heartland’s ability to provide a variety of preventive services such as smoking-cessation classes, a walking program and a diabetes program.
“It’s terrific when we can take people who already are sick, but it’s even better when we can do things to prevent people from getting sick in the first place,” he said.
Angoff also touted President Barack Obama’s health care law, called the Affordable Care Act, during his visit and said Heartland’s grant was one of the benefits of it. He said community health centers, like Heartland, have received about $37 million under the Affordable Care Act, and that money could be in jeopardy if the law is overturned.
“I can’t emphasize enough that this is a grant under the Affordable Care Act and if anything were to happen to the Affordable Care Act, this money would no longer be there,” he said.
Dr. Raul Morffi, medical director at Heartland, described the grant as a “really big deal.” He’s hoping that it will allow him to go from working one day a week at the clinic to becoming a full-time staff member.
Morffi said he worked in a Federally Qualified Health Center in Salina for three years during his residency and has seen firsthand the opportunities such a designation can create. He said not only will the grant allow them to take care of more patients, but it will also allow educational opportunities for students, ranging from nurses to nutritionists. In Salina, the clinic provided dental services, and he would like to see those added at Heartland as well.
Morffi said not only can the uninsured population benefit from the clinic, but also people who require more health care than the average person, such as those with diabetes or high blood pressure. For example, he said Heartland can provide coaches to help hold people more accountable for their behaviors by checking in with them on a weekly basis.
“It works. We see patients that probably would have just floundered in a lot of private practice clinics that I would have worked in, but the system is working for them here,” he said.