PORTLAND — The Portland Community Health Center will be able to serve more patients because of a $500,000 federal grant to renovate its facilities.

The grant is part of a $728 million program under the Affordable Care Act that’s aimed at strengthening community health centers. The centers aim to emphasize preventive care and reduce the number of poor and uninsured patients who seek care in hospital emergency rooms.

“It’s very exciting news,” the center’s chief executive officer, Leslie Brancato, said of winning the competitive grant. “We’ll be able to expand. There’s space available in our building, but it has been unusable.”

The renovations will enable the center to add a team that includes a family doctor, a social worker and a medical assistant.

A health center in Bangor also received a $500,000 capital improvement grant, and one in Caribou received $270,000.

The Portland Community Health Center has been getting about 50 new patients a week. The expansion of its facility will let it serve as many as 4,500, up from the 2,600 patients it now serves.

Brancato said the grant will enable the center, a nonprofit that operates in partnership with the city of Portland, to make better use of the 7,700 square feet of space it leases at 180 Park Ave., across from King Middle School.

The money will enable the center to create better treatment environments – such as by equipping a room with a reverse air flow system for people with infectious diseases – expand office space and make sure the entire facility complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act, Brancato said.

The center opened in 2009. Not long ago, its survival was in doubt. Supporters worried that congressional wrangling over funding for centers nationally would lead to steep cuts in Maine.

However, the program has broad bipartisan support in Congress, and money to help run the centers was eventually approved, said Kevin Lewis, executive director of the Maine Primary Care Association.

The centers charge for health care on a sliding scale based on patients’ ability to pay.

Mayor Michael Brennan said the grant will help support a crucial piece of the state’s health care infrastructure, which is essential as people lose private health insurance or MaineCare coverage.

“This grant will help the Portland Community Health Center expand and meet the health care needs of a diverse population,” Brennan said in a prepared statement. “Investments in (the Portland center) and other federally qualified health centers make sense as they save the health care system millions every year.”

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, one of the original co-sponsors of the Affordable Care Act, announced the award Tuesday.

“This investment makes health care more accessible for people in our community who can’t afford it, without putting that burden on local property taxes,” she said in a written statement.

Pingree, D-1st District, is married to S. Donald Sussman, majority share owner of The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram.

 

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at: [email protected]