New Kensington health clinic to expand services to meet demand
A $125,000 grant will help the Community Health Clinic in New Kensington expand its services to meet growing demand.
The money from the Richard King Mellon Foundation will be used to hire a medical case manager and establish a dental lab, according to Raji Jayakrishnan, the clinic's executive director.
Jayakrishnan said the clinic saw an increase of more than 40 percent in patient visits in the last year, climbing to more than 8,000 visits in 2015.
She attributed the increase primarily to more people gaining insurance through the state's Medicaid expansion program under the federal Affordable Care Act, informally called Obamacare.
She said about 37 percent of the clinic's patients were uninsured last year, down from 50 percent in 2014.
The clinic also expanded its offerings in the last year, adding behavioral health services and a new location in Vandergrift.
More people with insurance means more people seeking the clinic's services, said Bill Hall, secretary of the clinic's board of directors.
“They seek care instead of fearing it,” Hall said.
It also means people who are not experienced in scheduling appointments, dealing with insurance companies and finding specialists now are trying to navigate the health care system.
That's why the clinic will be hiring a medical case manager to assist patients and make sure they are getting lab work completed, visiting specialists and seeking follow-up care, Jayakrishnan said.
“It really takes an expert to find their way through it,” Hall added.
Jayakrishnan said the medical case manager will join the clinic's behavioral case manager, who assists patients in securing social services, housing and food.
Ideally, the new medical case manager will be a nurse and will join the staff in April, she said.
Coming soon: Dental lab
The dental lab should be operational this summer, she said.
The New Kensington clinic's dental practice handled about 1,100 patient visits last year, Jayakrishnan said.
They visit Dr. Ronald Proctor for dental exams, extractions and other basic services. But patients needing more extensive services, including dentures and crowns, have had to be referred elsewhere, Jayakrishnan said.
“We're expanding our scope of services,” Proctor said.
“We get two to three calls per day for dentures,” Jayakrishnan said.
The expansion will include a new digital X-ray machine and some minor remodeling to make room for working on molds, Jayakrishnan said.
While the clinic operates on a sliding fee scale depending on a patient's insurance and ability to pay, she said fees for dentures, partials and crowns will be based on the clinic's cost to get the dental prosthetics produced. She said those costs still are being negotiated with an outside provider.
Piecing the funding together
The Mellon foundation grant will cover the cost of the dental lab expansion and medical case manager salary for one year, Jayakrishnan said.
After that, she anticipates the clinic being able to cover the ongoing costs.
The clinic primarily is funded through the federal Health Resources and Services Administration and insurance reimbursements. It operates on an annual budget of about $2.2 million.
Jayakrishnan also seeks grants, and no amount is too small.
She noted the clinic received $700 from the Muriel E. and Edward C. Wachter Charitable Foundation. That money will be combined with $1,000 from the New Kensington Rotary to help patients pay for diabetic care supplies.
Jayakrishnan said the clinic continually seeks ways to better serve the needs of the Alle-Kiski Valley. She noted it has received financial incentives from the HRSA for improving quality of care.
“People are healing,” she said.
Liz Hayes is a Tribune-Review staff writer.