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Highmark's charitable arm giving $400K to Catholic Charities

| Thursday, July 25, 2013, 12:12 p.m.
Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review
Catholic Charities Free Health Care Center administrator Annette Fetchko (left) and Highmark Foundation president Yvonne Cook (right) chat with Catholic Charities Free Health Care Center patient Idida Cruz, 63, of Lower Burrell following a press conference, Downtown Thursday, July 25, 2013. Cruz received a kidney transplant October 15, 2012 and continues to receive care from the Catholic Charities Free Health Care Center. Highmark announced a $400,000 grant during the press event.

In 2007, Idida Cruz began undergoing four-hour dialysis treatments three days a week for kidney failure, she said.

After the disease and treatment forced her to quit her job at a nursing home in 2010, she lost her employer-sponsored insurance.

Medicare began paying for her medical care, but she turned to Catholic Charities Free Health Care Center, Downtown, for free dental care, said Cruz, 63, of Lower Burrell. She now visits every three months for a checkup because the kidney transplant she received in October requires her to remain free of infection, she said.

“The services here are so professional, so loving. And I thank God for this blessing,” Cruz said.

The Catholic Charities center's mission — providing free dental and primary health care to the uninsured — prompted Highmark Health Services and its charitable foundation to continue their support of the center, most recently with a donation of $400,000 announced Thursday.

Highmark is the health center's biggest and most longstanding corporate donor, said Annette Fetchko, administrator of the center.

Highmark has donated about $2.2 million since the center opened in 2007, said Dan Onorato, Highmark Health's executive vice president of external affairs and communications.

“We liked the fact that it was filling a hole in the safety net,” he said.

The center mostly helps people that social service agencies call the “working poor.” They do not qualify for Medicaid or other types of assistance or cannot afford private insurance, and their income is at or below 200 percent of federal poverty guidelines.

A small percentage of patients, like Cruz, are covered by Medicare but receive dental-only benefits through the center, Fetchko said.

Demand for free medical services has grown as the number of low-income, uninsured Americans has grown for decades, said Julie Sonier, deputy director of the University of Minnesota's State Health Access Data Assistance Center.

In Pennsylvania, 67 percent of working people younger than 65 had employer-provided health insurance in 2010-11, compared with 77 percent in 1999-2000, she said.

The Catholic Charities center, which has $700,000 in renovations planned to meet growing demand, does not receive state or federal subsidies. It is funded by donations from corporations, foundations, special events and individual donors, Fetchko said.

Its fiscal 2013 total operating budget of $2.6 million includes $1.6 million worth of in-kind volunteer hours. Last year, the center helped 2,200 patients, mostly with volunteer staff, Fetchko said.

“Our greatest recruitment is our volunteers and our word-of-mouth,” she said.

Tory N. Parrish is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-5662 or tparrish@tribweb.com.

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