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ACA Opportunity Fund serves as seed money for various health organizations

Dollars benefit possible clinic expansions and foster hospital cooperation
By Mike Sherry, for the KHI News Service, April 23, 2012

Funding for about four more grantees remains available to help Kansas nonprofits secure money through the hundreds of programs established by the federal health reform law.

Approximately $115,550 remains in the Affordable Care Act Opportunity Fund, a $450,000 pool of seed money created last year by the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City, the Kansas Health Foundation, the REACH Healthcare Foundation, the Sunflower Foundation and the United Methodist Health Ministry Fund.

The Health Reform Resource Project in Topeka is administering the fund.
The aim is to help nonprofits, including government agencies, position themselves for funding through the Affordable Care Act programs.

For example, seven of the grants have gone to community health centers that needed architectural designs for expansions. The clinics could benefit from dollars available through the Health Resources and Services Administration.

Since August, a dozen seed grants (each a maximum of $30,000) have been awarded in Kansas. Information on the projects funded through December is available at http://www.sunflowerfoundation.org/communications-press_releases.php)

The community health centers had hoped to get word on their applications by March. But the target date is now late June, said Sheldon Weisgrau, director of the Health Reform Resource Project. Weisgrau travels the state providing information about the health reform law to various organizations and agencies.

Executives with the five funding foundations consider grant applications as they come in. The fund is scheduled to sunset by the end of year, when it is expected that all the money in it will have been distributed.

“The clock is ticking here and the funds are available only as long as they are available,” Weisgrau said. “It all could be gone in a few months.”

Currently, one application is pending and the foundations have rejected or deferred five others.

None of the applications to date have come from the Kansas City-area counties of Allen, Johnson and Wyandotte. The funders would like to see at least one of the remaining grants awarded in the metropolitan area.

“Given that these are populous counties, where a lot of folks in Kansas live,” Weisgrau said, “we are all very interested in seeing a project from the KC metro. We just, right now, haven’t seen one.”

Among the grants already made was one to the Health Innovations Network of Kansas (HINK), a consortium of 19 northeast Kansas hospitals. The Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas in Pittsburg also received one.

The HINK hospitals include facilities in Jefferson and Brown counties, along with Stormont-Vail Regional Health Center in Topeka. The network existed prior to applying for the ACA Opportunity grant, said Martie Ross, an Overland Park-based health care consultant who worked with the group on activities funded by the grant.

But, she said, the grant fostered relationships among chief executive officers that led them to discuss ways that they could better coordinate care through initiatives such as telemedicine and sharing reimbursements.

The network applied for a grant through the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to explore shared payments and for a technology grant through the Health Resources and Services Administration. It was unsuccessful in its application to the foundation and it’s awaiting word on the federal submission.

Even if the ACA Opportunity grant does not lead to additional grant funding, Ross said the increased cooperation nurtured by the money had been beneficial.

“They have really broken down that competitive spirit,” she said, realizing that “they can use collaboration to improve their own financial bottom line as well as health outcomes in their communities.”

Krista Postai is chief executive of the community health center in Pittsburg, which is planning to expand by about 25,000 square feet.

The architectural drawings for the center paid for through the ACA Opportunity grant can be helpful seeking other funding, if the center does not receive money through its initial submission to the federal government, she said.
The center could not have afforded the drawings without the grant.

“I don’t have that kind of money lying around,” Postai said.

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