December 19, 2016. The Lakeland Ledger.

HAINES CITY – A community health clinic to serve low-income residents is expected to open in Haines City by mid-April now that Central Florida Health Care has been awarded a startup grant.

Ann Claussen, chief executive officer of Central Florida Health Care – which operates community health clinics in six cities in Polk County and in three cities in neighboring counties – sent an email Friday announcing the award of the New Access Point grant.

“We applied for $650,000 and received $693,333,” Claussen said. “Now we will be able to open up a community health center in an area that greatly needs our services.”

And now the clock is ticking – one of the grant’s requirements is that the clinic is established within 120 days.

The effort to get the grant began last winter when PEACE – Polk Ecumenical Action Council for Empowerment, an organization representing 20 churches – invited Northeast Polk community leaders to form an exploratory committee about starting a health clinic to provide a medical home and primary care services to low-income and uninsured residents. Claussen chaired the committee.

Central Florida Health Care, which is a federally qualified community health clinic, applied for the grant last summer.

“We knew there were to be only 75 awardees in the whole country so we did not want to get our hopes up,” she said. “We were very excited when this came through. ”

The federal Health and Human Services secretary announced the names of the 75 health centers in 23 states and Puerto Rico that would receive portions of the $50 million on Thursday. Central Florida Health Care’s grant was among five awarded to Florida community health centers.

“For millions of Americans, including some of the most vulnerable individuals and families, health centers are the essential medical home where they find services that promote health, and diagnose and treat disease and disability,” Jim Macrae, acting administrator of the Health Resources and Services Administration, said in a news release. “One in 13 people nationwide rely on a HRSA-funded health center for their preventive and primary health care needs.”

An estimated 15 percent of Polk County’s population was uninsured and lacked a medical home in 2014, Claussen said. PEACE has estimated 10,000 people in the northeastern part of the county fall into that category.

Central Florida Health Care received a similar grant to open a community health clinic in Mulberry in early 2014. That grant also stipulated the clinic had to be operational within 120 days of the grant announcement.

“We will begin working with our Realtor, Haines City officials, Heart of Florida hospital, Polk County Health Department and other partners to ensure that we get the clinic up and running in 120 days,” Claussen said in an email to staff and the agency’s board of directors. “We want to open small and grow as we continue to evaluate the health care needs in Haines City.”

Ann Barnhart, chief executive officer of Heart of Florida Regional Medical Center, said she was “proud to be partnered with Central Florida Health Care in the development of a community health center, which will service patients within the greater Haines City area.

“This grant will go a long way in ensuring access to affordable healthcare for those who need it most and are currently underserved,” she said.

“The new center will provide quality, cost-effective primary care which will hopefully reduce the number of emergency room visits for those with chronic illnesses that have gone untreated,” Barnhart said. “Equally important will be access to preventative care for our local residents.”

Claussen said the 120-day time frame means her team must move fast. She hopes to secure a location for the clinic within the next three weeks so that an address can be established to fulfill paperwork requirements for Medicare and Medicaid numbers.

If an existing building cannot be found that would be suitable for a clinic, the team will be looking for property where a modular building can be placed, Claussen said.

“Those 120 days will be gone before you know it,” Claussen said.

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