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Valley Health’s East Huntington location is pictured on March 5, 2021. Valley Health is one of 28 community health centers in West Virginia that will receive American Rescue Plan funding to support COVID-19 vaccination and services for vulnerable populations.

HUNTINGTON — Twenty-eight community health centers in West Virginia will receive $82,842,125 in American Rescue Plan funding to support COVID-19 vaccination and services for vulnerable populations, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced last week.

“Every American should have the security of knowing they have access to quality, affordable health care, especially as we face a pandemic that has exposed the disparities facing rural, minority and lower-income communities,” said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra in a news release announcing the awards. “The Biden Administration is committed to getting help to those who need it most, and the communities hit hardest by COVID-19 will benefit from these critical investments.”

Williamson Health & Wellness Center in Mingo County is getting nearly $1.7 million.

Lincoln Primary Care Center in Hamlin is getting more than $3 million, but it did not respond to messages seeking comment.

Valley Health, which has its headquarters in Huntington, is getting $11,142,750.

“We were really surprised last Thursday morning when it was announced,” said Steve Shattls, president and chief executive officer of Valley Health. “We haven’t totally reviewed the guidelines at this time, but we are examining our expenses and losses going back to January 2020. We spent a huge amount on not just getting COVID testing but also with vaccinating. We can’t spend it until we know how we can spend it, so we don’t have exact details at this time. We have received notice of the grant award, but not the details. We are hoping to have them soon. I can say this funding will help us serve our mission of helping the vulnerable population in our region.”

Chief Financial Officer David Jewell says the center has plans for part of the funds.

“Part will be used for expansion of clinic service, and we will be constructing a testing and vaccination center,” Jewell said.

The center has been using tents and wants a more permanent structure, he said.

In Kentucky, 25 awards totaling $96,748,500 were announced.

The funding is being awarded by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) and will start in April.

According to the federal guidelines, health centers will be able to use the funds to support and expand COVID-19 vaccination, testing and treatment for vulnerable populations; deliver needed preventive and primary health care services to those at higher risk for COVID-19; and expand health centers’ operational capacity during the pandemic and beyond, including modifying and improving physical infrastructure and adding mobile units.

“This investment will help increase access to vaccinations among hard-hit populations, as well as confidence in the vaccine by empowering local, trusted health professionals in their efforts to expand vaccinations,” the HHS said in its announcement.

Each award was calculated using a formula that included a base value of $500,000, plus $125 per patient reported in the 2019 Uniform Data System (UDS) and $250 per uninsured patient reported in the 2019 UDS.

HRSA-funded health centers are community-based and patient-directed organizations that deliver affordable, accessible, quality and cost-effective primary health care to medically underserved communities and vulnerable populations, including high-need urban, rural and frontier communities across the country, the HHS added.

“Health centers serve one in five people living in rural communities, and one in 11 people nationwide,” the HHS said. “More than 91% of health center patients are individuals or families living at or below 200% of the federal poverty guidelines, and nearly 63% are racial or ethnic minorities.”

For detailed information on how this funding is being distributed to health centers, including an interactive map of which health centers will receive funding, visit https://bphc.hrsa.gov/program-opportunities/american-rescue-plan/awards.

Follow reporter Fred Pace at Facebook.com/FredPaceHD and via Twitter @FredPaceHD or email him at fpace@hdmediallc.com.

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