New community health center to open in Kenai

A new full-service community medical center is slated to open in Kenai.

A federal grant to the Peninsula Community Health Services of Alaska, a Soldotna-based nonprofit that already operates two facilities that provide dental, behavioral health, psychiatric and medical services, will fund the center. The grant, awarded by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resource and Services Administration, provides $858,333 to the new center.

“This is a great opportunity for us to expand affordable, high-quality services into Kenai,” said Monica Adams, CEO of PCHS, in a news release. “We care for all people regardless of age, income, insurance status, race or ethnicity, and accept new Medicaid, Medicare, private insurance and those without insurance.”

Three community health centers on the peninsula received funding from the HHS in 2015, including one in Soldotna, one in Seward and one in Seldovia.

The current center in Soldotna serves approximately 7,500 people annually, according to the news release. The grant is designed to increase primary care provider availability in areas with limited access, according to the HHS.

Seldovia received approximately $1.85 million from the HRSA in 2015 and Seward received $819,167 in 2015. The center in Soldotna received $1.4 million in the first round of funding in addition to the most recent grant.

The centers also have experienced financial trouble due to the high number of uninsured and low-income patients that seek services there. PCHS wrote off $2.5 million for services on which it was unable to collect payment for 2013 and 2014, and though it receives state and federal funding, the center cannot afford to simply offer free care.

The Medicaid expansion could aid those centers that already care for uninsured patients statewide, according to Nancy Merriman, the executive director of the Alaska Primary Care Association.

“We know that about 37 percent of the Alaska health care system’s population is uninsured,” Merriman said. “However, because our community health centers are already seeing a number of uninsured, they’ll be fine. I think they still have the capacity to see the new population, they’ll just be better equipped to see providers when they’re well.”

Adams said that the additional funding is a welcome relief that helps keep the center up and running. Approximately $3.8 million, or 30 percent, of the organization’s revenue was spent on discounts, charity care and fee adjustments in 2014, she said.

“Because we offer significant discounts on our services to individuals and families based on their income level, we could not operate without federal grants and support such as this,” Adams said. “Many people think we are associated with the hospital, but we are not and must rely on grants like this in order to provide care to those who need it most.”

The new center will be located in Kenai on the first floor of the former Benco Building, 805 Frontage Road.

Five other organizations in Alaska also received grants to provide points of access for more patients: the Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association, Dena’Nena’Henash, Girdwood Health Clinic, Kodiak Area Native Association and Southcentral Foundation.

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