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Grant Funding is Still Out There

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media, December 3, 2008

With the U.S. economy officially in recession, a new report provides five useful tips for getting electronic medical record money for federally qualified health centers.

The white paper, written by consultants Audie C. Horn and Rhonda Metze, says that although times are tight, grant money is available for community health centers whose managers understand and state their needs carefully, are willing to persist through the arduous grant-writing process, and who are willing to pool resources with other CHCs.

While the paper is focused on EMR funding (it is underwritten by the EMR vendor HealthPort), Metze's and Horn's suggestions are commonsensical and applicable to most any effort to get grants.

First, community health centers in the same region are urged to team up with one another. That's because the federal government gives preference to networks of CHCs rather than individual CHCs, doling out grants of about $1 million or so to collaboratives to gain economy of scale and have a greater impact in a region. For example, the Mississippi HealthSafeNet High Impact EMP Project, representing seven of Mississippi's 22 CHCs, recently applied, received, and divvied up a $1.4 million technology grant from the feds.

Second, don't just look to the government for money. Private foundations and corporations are still handing out money for CHCs with savvy managers who know where to look and how to ask. Generally, private donors don't give as much as the feds, but they're usually quicker to act. If you don't know where to find a deep-pockets donor, Metze recommends browsing at foundationcenter.org/, which regularly posts contact information on any number of private foundations, endowments, and other donors. Metze says more and more private donors are learning about the value and the needs of CHCs, which makes asking for money a little bit easier.

Third, consider adopting a total cost of ownership model. It requires a little bit of work, but it has the potential to pay major dividends both financially and with respect to building community ties. Go to your local hospital and point out the savings that can be achieved by funneling non-emergency cases from their emergency department to your CHC. Go to your local Wal-Mart or other big employer in town and make sure they understand the work you are doing to keep their community and their workers healthy and productive. Make sure they understand the cost benefit and ask them to share in the cost. "That support can include help with marketing, or providing space for free clinics at their facilities, or by donations, or by volunteer work," Metze says. "The whole community needs to buy into the total cost of ownership for the care you are providing."

Fourth, get your message straight. You're asking for money, so you'd better be able to explain why you need it. Explain how your CHC provides care for the homeless or migrant and seasonal workers. Explain how the funding you're requesting will be used to ultimately benefit a population that nobody else is serving.

And fifth, focus on quality improvements. With the industry emphasis on preventive medical care continuing to grow, make sure to highlight the preventive care programs your CHC has undertaken. This can be tricky because of the patient mix at CHCs, where most patients are poor, uninsured, and seeking immediate care for an immediate problem. But you can show how the money you're seeking can have a positive impact on preventive care. For example, an EMR grant could allow your CHC to provide diabetes, dental, and body-mass screenings for the population you serve.

It's never easy to ask anyone for money. It's not supposed to be. But if you're organized, know what you want, and are willing to work with other like-minded CHCs in your region, the money is out there.


John Commins is the human resources and community and rural hospitals editor with HealthLeaders Media. He can be reached at jcommins@healthleadersmedia.com.
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