By NOAH BUHAYAR
Taking time off work to go to a doctor’s appointment can be a drag, especially if you’re paid hourly and the time away takes a bite out of your paycheck.
For two years, patients at Mission Neighborhood Health Center have been raising this very problem in surveys. The medical facility serves thousands of un- and underinsured neighborhood residents seeking low-cost primary care. Many of them work in construction or service-sector jobs that don’t have sick-leave benefits. But the health center stays open only from 8:30 a.m. until 5:15 p.m. most weekdays. On Wednesday, the hours are even shorter—from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
No more. By the end of May, the health center plans to open an evening clinic with a $328,334 grant it received from the federal government. The grant is part of nearly $2 billion earmarked for health centers in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. And it’s a small example of how billions of stimulus dollars are winding their way to the Mission.
“It’s a small dent, but it’s still helpful,” said Fernando Gomez-Benitez, Mission Neighborhood’s deputy director, about the grant.
Mission Neighborhood’s annual budget is roughly $11 million. It receives yearly operating grants from the federal government in return for offering primary care to patients regardless of their ability to pay. The grant is in addition to those funds. The organization also relies on money from the city and state as well as foundations.
The details for the evening clinic are still being worked out, said Gomez-Benitez.
The health center is still waiting to hear back from the federal government about grant proposals to patch up its leaky roof, address several other infrastructure problems, and install an electronic health record system.
David Bowman, a spokesperson for the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration, said details about those funds would be available in the next few weeks.
Gomez-Benitez declined to estimate how many people the evening clinic would employ. Since the recession began in December 2007, the nation has hemorrhaged 5.1 million jobs, according the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. One of the major policy goals of the federal stimulus is to stanch that bleeding.
In all, California received 117 grants last month to expand services at community health centers. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that 896 jobs will be saved or created from the $48,088,867 in grants.
Yes, that equals $53,670 per job.
But, as Gomez-Benitez explained, the grants have to be spread out over two years. In Mission Neighborhood’s case, that means only $164,167 per year—not much to hire new staff. “We’re talking about a few hours here and there,” he added.
If it helps the health center’s patients hold on to their jobs—by offering more convenient times to see a doctor—then maybe the benefit will be greater.