LACONIA — Two community health centers that serve central New Hampshire have been awarded a total of nearly $3.5 million from the latest COVID relief package.
HealthFirst Family Health Care, which has facilities in Laconia, Franklin, and Tilton, will receive $1,306,625 from the American Rescue Plan. Mid-State Health Center, based in Plymouth, will get $2,173,250, according to an announcement Thursday from the state congressional delegation.
The money will help the centers provide greater access to COVID-19 vaccinations. But the grant money can also be used to help the centers “expand their operational capacities both during and after the pandemic,” according to the announcement made jointly by U.S. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan, and U.S. Reps. Chris Pappas and Annie Kuster.
The legislation provided $20.2 million to community health centers statewide.
HealthFirst CEO Russ Keene said it is too soon to know precisely how the money will be used. He said the center just learned Thursday morning how much money it would be getting under the economic stimulus bill. He said administrators would first need to look at the regulations governing the grant before it could draw up a budget for spending the money.
“Our plan is to use the funds to enhance the services to the communities,” Keene said, noting HealthFirst provides primary health-care services to about a dozen communities in the Greater Laconia and Twin Rivers area.
Like other community health centers, HealthFirst has so far not been providing COVID vaccinations to its patients.
“Vaccines are the key to ending this pandemic, reopening our schools and economy and returning a sense of normalcy back to our everyday lives,” Shaheen said. “This funding … will put us one step closer to the goal of ensuring all Granite Staters are able to get vaccinated, while also supporting our community health centers on the frontlines. These funds are especially important for our rural communities and will provide a necessary boost in assistance, which they urgently need.”
Mid-State’s CEO Bob MacLeod said some of the money will be used to provide vaccination services. But he pointed out there needs to be a greater availability of the vaccine so community health centers can be confident of having a reliable supply to meet patient needs.
“As the supply permits we will roll out more vaccinations,” he said. “We want to make sure that everyone who wants to get vaccinated can get vaccinated.”
But MacLeod said the grant should allow Mid-State and other community health centers to enhance a variety of health-care services as well as its facilities.
“The funding goes beyond (vaccinations),” he said.
Similarly, Keene said HealthFirst hopes the grant will allow it to fill in some gaps in local health-care.
“Excuse the pun, but this grant is definitely a shot in the arm,” he said.