Hilltown Community Health Centers lands $1.8 million grant

  • Hilltown Community Health Centers Executive Director Eliza Lake talks about the opening of the new John P. Musante Health Center in the Bangs Center in Amherst during a tour of the facility on June 7, 2018. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 4/1/2021 7:44:17 PM

WORTHINGTON — Hilltown Community Health Centers has been awarded a $1.8 million grant from the American Rescue Plan Act, the largest financial infusion in the nonprofit’s history and part of $7.6 billion in funding approved for community health centers nationwide.

“It’s so fantastic we don’t know what to do yet,” said Hilltown Community Health Centers Chief Executive Officer Eliza Lake.

The organization’s main clinics are in Worthington, Huntington and Amherst. Its origins date back more than 70 years and it provides health care to patients regardless of their ability to pay.

The nonprofit’s coverage area includes all of Hampshire County, with the exception of Ware, as well as the western Hilltowns of Hampden County. However, there is no ZIP code requirement to access its services, which include medical, dental, behavioral health care, optometry, domestic violence victim advocacy, COVID-19 vaccinations and COVID-19 tests.

The Community Health Center of Franklin County also received a similar $1.65 million award.

Lake said that the grant is a little bigger than the centers’ annual federal funding. The $7.6 billion for community health centers are for a variety of activities related to combating COVID-19, including vaccine distribution and administration, testing, contact tracing, supplies, community outreach and education. It can also be used to carry out other health workforce-related activities and to expand health care services and infrastructure, according to the rescue plan act.

“It’s the largest-one time grant we’ve ever received,” Lake said.

The nonprofit has 60 days to submit a budget for the money, which must be spent within two years, she said.

While Lake said that the budgeting process will help Hilltown Community Health Centers to determine what the $1.8 million will be spent on, she did say that part of it will definitely go to the centers’ vaccination effort. The funds will be available for the nonprofit to draw from as costs are accrued.

Lake said that the health centers have seen a significant drop in revenue because of the pandemic, due to most of its revenue coming from patients. However, she said that a combination of PPP loans, other support from the federal and state governments, and individual contributions have helped to stabilize its financial situation.

“We are at the moment financially stable,” Lake said. “Certainly this grant will help with that.”

Lake praised the work of U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, and U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Worcester, for helping to secure funding for health centers in the American Rescue Plan Act. The $7.6 billion passed through the House Committee on Ways and Means, of which Neal is chairman.

“The idea of expanding health care centers was part of our philosophy,” Neal said.

He also said that the pandemic has shown the value of both telehealth and community health centers, and he praised the work of the Hilltown Community Health Centers.

“I think they do a terrific job every day,” he said.

McGovern said community health centers are on the front lines and “deserve all the support we can give them.”

He said he’s been fighting for community health centers since he got into Congress, and that he learned about their impact from the late U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy.

“Every time we fight for money for community health centers I think of Senator Kennedy,” McGovern said.

He also said that the money for community health centers passed through the House Committee on Rules, which he chairs.

“Our chairmanships allow us to look out for the Massachusetts interest,” he said.

McGovern also said that there is a good chance community health centers will receive additional money from the federal government this year as well.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.

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