HHS awards more than $700 million to CHCs

June 7, 2012

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) last month awarded $728 million to build and expand community health centers (CHC). The new grant awards could include funding for up to 26 new or expanded CHC eye and vision clinics, according to the AOA Advocacy Group.

Last month’s grant awards represent the second round of funding allocated under a CHC Capital Development – Building Capacity Program that was authorized under the federal Affordable Care Act. The act, which will provide federally qualified health centers with a total of $11 billion over five years, includes a service expansion program of $9.5 billion to provide expansion services with approximately one-third going to oral health, behavioral health, pharmacy, and vision care in CHCs.

The HHS Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) announced it would make new and expanded CHC vision clinics a priority when the grant program was announced (see AOA News, November 2010).

The AOA, the National Commission on Vision and Health (NCVH), the National Association for Community Health Centers (NACHC), and the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers (MLCHC) have worked over the past decade to raise awareness of the importance of vision care among federal administrators, primary care associations and local CHC boards across the nation.

The AOA and the NACHC joined together to make vision care available in CHCs nationwide, using as a model a network of successful eye and vision clinics established in Boston-area CHCs by the New England Eye Institute (NEEI).

The HRSA received the applications for new or expanded CHC eye and vision clinics within months of announcing the grant program. Many of the applications were filed with the assistance of a special AOA program instituted to help CHCs establish vision care services.

The concept of comprehensive vision clinics in CHCs was favorably received by top HRSA officials during series of meetings with AOA representatives, arranged through the NCVH during 2009 and 2010.

Until now, many grants under the 2010 Service Expansion Grant Program, including proposed new or expanded CHC vision clinics, had been held up by congressional funding authorization, according to Jan Cooper-Hagman, O.D., chair of the AOA Community Health Center Committee.

Community health centers now provide primary care to 20 million Americans. The new grants will expand access to an additional 860,000 patients, according to the HHS.

Only about 10 percent of the nation’s community health centers today offer on-site eye or vision care, according to the AOA Advocacy Group.

The AOA Advocacy Group plans to work with additional CHCs to pursue Capital Development – Building Capacity Program Grants during the remaining three years of the program.

Last month’s development awards, listed by state, can be found at http://tiny url.com/2012CHCgrants.

For more information on the HHS community health center program, visit http://bphc.hrsa.gov/.

A list of existing community health centers can be accessed at http://findahealthcenter.hrsa.gov.

Additional information on optometric practice in CHCs, and the AOA’s efforts to establish vision clinics in the centers, can be found on the AOA website CHC page (www.aoa.org/x6494.xml).

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