Community Health Clinic in New Kensington positioned to help

Liz Hayes
| Saturday, April 12, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

With renovations completed and federal funding secured for the next three years, the Community Health Clinic in New Kensington is positioning itself to reach out to more prospective patients.

“More people need to take advantage of this,” said Bill Hall of Lower Burrell, secretary of the clinic's board.

Hall, other board members and the clinic's staff were on hand Friday for an open house to showcase the $500,000 in upgrades that were completed in the last month, thanks to a federal grant from the Department of Health and Human Services.

Executive Director Raji Dandapani said the clinic boasts eight patient exam rooms, three physician offices, a new ventilation system, new electrical work and new plumbing.

New refrigerators store vaccines and new lab chairs allow for blood draws. Sinks were added to the exam rooms, which feature new furniture and updated equipment that in some cases can transmit readings directly to patients' electronic records.

“It looks great,” Dandapani said. “This is the way I wanted it to look. “It no longer looks like we're serving very poor people.”

With sunny yellow paint on the walls and a modern computer system, the Fourth Avenue offices could be mistaken for any suburban outpatient center.

Expanded services

But Roberta Woods, 87, of New Kensington said the Community Health Clinic has done more for her than any other medical practice.

“I walked in here and they treated me like a queen,” she said.

In fact, Woods credits the clinic with helping her get a chariot: She maneuvered the remodeled clinic in a motorized chair.

“They help me with all my problems,” she said. “They make me feel good.”

Dandapani hopes the clinic will make more people feel good.

One of the grants she is pursuing would allow the clinic to offer mental health services, something she feels is a need in the community.

“Behavioral health is a subset of medical health,” she said.

The clinic hired outreach specialist Theresa Maxwell a few months ago to help people navigate services.

They include checkups, immunizations, lab testing, family planning, dental and gynecological services.

The 13-member staff includes a family practice doctor, a nurse practitioner, a dentist and a gynecologist.

“We go beyond what you'd see in a normal outpatient center,” Dandapani said. “The bar is very high.”

Dandapani said the clinic's Federally Qualified Health Center status was renewed on March 1, which guarantees it federal funding for another three years. The clinic's base annual grant through the program is about $760,000, about half of its $1.3 million operating budget.

“We do miracles with that,” Dandapani said.

Gaining federal status, which also grants access to Medicare reimbursements, discounted prescriptions and medical malpractice insurance, saved the clinic in 2009 when it nearly closed amid financial problems.

Five years later, the clinic recently was awarded the patient-centered medical home status, which Dandapani said means they track patients through the health-care system rather than just seeing them for brief, sporadic visits.

“We turned a corner when Raji came,” said Hall of Dandapani, who joined the clinic four years ago.

More patients expected

Dandapani expects the Community Health Clinic's pool of patients to grow next year when people who currently can't afford insurance are expected to be insured through the state under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

The clinic offers a sliding fee scale to accommodate people who normally wouldn't be able to afford health care.

About 2,500 individuals were served by the clinic last year; there were 5,500 patient visits total.

“We are in a position to grow,” Dandapani said.

While many of the patients live in Arnold, Lower Burrell and New Kensington, Hall said about a third of their patients live in Allegheny County, and the Kiski Valley is a potential growth area.

“We have no borders,” he said. “We make sure these folks are taken care of. They're not numbers to us.”

Liz Hayes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4680 or

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