Athens Neighborhood Health Center seeks additional $100,000 from county

The nonprofit Athens Neighborhood Health Center operates three clinics in Athens-Clarke County, including this location on McKinley Drive. The center is facing a funding shortfall, and has asked the county government for an additional $100,000 in funding. (Special photo)

One month after announcing that a $200,000 funding shortfall had forced it to cut employee salaries by 7 percent and to cover only half of the cost of employees’ insurance premiums, representatives of the nonprofit Athens Neighborhood Health Center are asking the Athens-Clarke County government to boost its funding of the clinic by $100,000.

 

The center operates three clinics — on McKinley Drive, College Avenue and Old Jefferson Road — where its staff of physicians and other healthcare professionals provide medical services to the working poor, the homeless, the uninsured and other underserved populations in Athens and the surrounding area.

The ANHC’s request for an additional $100,000 in county funding came at a non-voting Tuesday meeting where Mayor Nancy Denson and Athens-Clarke County commissioners heard funding requests from a number of “independent agencies” that get funding from a variety of sources, including the county government. Denson and county managers are working on a budget proposal for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Commissioners, who will have input into the budget development process, will vote on a budget late this spring.

In an interview last month following the announcement of the funding shortfall and the cost-cutting measures taken by ANHC, the chair of the center’s board, Mae Walter, traced the fiscal difficulties to the intermittent nature of some of the center’s funding streams.

The center’s federal grant funding, along with local government support, help from the United Way of Northeast Georgia and some other dollars come to the ANHC on a regular and predictable basis, Walter said. But other funding sources, including Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement, insurance payments from patients who are covered, and money from self-paying patients, is less reliable and predictable.

Adding to the ANHC’s challenges, Walter and other ANHC representatives conceded Tuesday, was what has turned out to be the center’s problematic expansion into its Old Jefferson Road facility. The expansion, along with challenges in getting the facility fully staffed, contributed to the nonprofit health center’s current shortfall, the ANHC representatives told the mayor and commission.

As it moves to address its fiscal challenges, the health center is awaiting word on whether it will receive a $1.2 million grant through the federal Health Resources & Services Administration, the mayor and commissioners were told Tuesday. Word on the grant should come sometime in May, the ANHC representatives said Tuesday.

The center has already received some local assistance in meeting its shortfall, Walter and the ANHC representatives said Tuesday. Piedmont Athens Regional hospital has provided the center with $50,000 in assistance, they told the mayor and commission.

In the meantime, it’s not clear how the $100,000 requested from the county would immediately help the ANHC, because those funds wouldn’t be available until the July 1 start of the new fiscal year, although the money could still help the center meet its shortfall if the federal grant does not come through.

“My heart is breaking for your circumstances,” Denson told Walter and the ANHC representatives. “I’m just not sure what we’ll be able to do for you.”

 

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