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The Boston Globe

Health & wellness

Mass. health centers awarded $34m

11 Mass. facilities get grants for poor

Eleven Massachusetts community health centers, which serve patients in some of the state’s poorest neighborhoods, will receive nearly $34 million in grants under the federal health care law, the Obama administration announced Tuesday.

The money, which the centers estimated will help them care for roughly 42,500 new patients, is also meant to help expand their facilities and improve existing services, federal officials said.

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It comes as many of the centers are struggling to care for newly needy patients, who lost jobs and health insurance during the protracted sour economy. The centers provide a wide range of medical and dental services, regardless of patients’ ability to pay.

In communities that have few dentists and doctors, never mind ones who will accept low-income Medicaid patients, the news was greeted with near jubilation.

“This kind of stuff usually doesn’t happen for us,’’ said Henry Tuttle, chief executive of Manet Community Health Center in Quincy, which received two grants totaling $5.5 million, the largest amount received by any Massachusetts health center.

Manet will use the money to bolster services for low-income elders and residents living in public housing. It will create a center in North Quincy, scheduled to be completed in March 2015, that will include 25 exam rooms and a pharmacy. The expansion is expected to make room for 5,286 additional patients.

Manet also will renovate facilities in Hull, which is expected to make room for about 1,500 additional patients, many of them seniors.

Eight Massachusetts health centers received a total of $80 million in federal stimulus money in 2009 to expand and upgrade services, but Manet was passed over in that round.

“The health disparities for people in public housing is significant,’’ Tuttle said, “and this is an attempt to address those needs.’’

Mattapan-based Harbor Health Services, which received $4.5 million, will use the money to renovate a building in Hyannis, which will allow it to serve about 4,000 more patients, said chief executive Dan Driscoll.

Although many think of Hyannis as a vacation resort, the legions of waiters, landscapers, and hotel staff that keep the area’s tourist industry humming are low-wage workers who often cannot afford private health insurance.

Driscoll said the state’s 2006 health care law, which extended insurance coverage to many, did not solve the problem of too few health care providers who take Medicaid patients. Harbor Health will also use the grant to hire more doctors, dentists, and nurse practitioners.

“You have this sad irony with a lot of people with an insurance card in their pocket but not many providers who will accept it,’’ Driscoll said.

At Fenway Community Health Center in Boston, which received $3.7 million, the money will be used to double the size of its dental department and increase the number of primary care providers, which will allow Fenway to serve an additional 4,000 to 6,000 patients a year.

“We have seen a steady increase in the demand for those services over the last few years, so this money couldn’t come at a better time as we look to expand access to care for those who need it most,’’ said Dr. Stephen L. Boswell, Fenway’s president and chief executive.

All told, the Obama administration announced awards Tuesday of more than $728 million for health care centers across the country.

The grants were made as part of the federal health law, known as the Affordable Care Act, which provides $9.5 billion to expand services over five years and another $1.5 billion to support construction and renovation projects at the health centers.

Other Massachusetts centers that will receive the funds are:

■Family Health Center of Worcester, $5 million.

■Holyoke Health Center, $3.28 million.

■Joseph M. Smith Community Health Center, Allston, $5 million.

■Dimock Community Health Center, Roxbury, $4.9 million.

■Brockton Neighborhood Health Center, Brockton, $500,000.

■Caring Health Center, Springfield, $309,937.

■Community Health Connections, Fitchburg, $396,344.

■North Shore Community Health, Salem, $498,500.

Kay Lazar can be reached at klazar@globe.com.
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