BIDDEFORD — Today, the second floor of the three-story building owned by Robert Reinken is only an empty shell. But by January, the 10,000-square-foot site will be completely renovated.

The former science center for the defunct Nasson College will then be bustling with patients and staff in its function as the new home of the York County Community Health Center.

On Monday, U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, several federal officials and numerous community members took a tour of the center’s future home at 15 Oak St. in Springvale.

When Congress passed the Affordable Care Act in 2010, the goal was to provide health insurance for more than 48 million uninsured Americans. In addition to providing insurance, money was set aside to improve how health care is delivered.

York County was the beneficiary of some of that funding.

With the award of the $600,000 New Access Point grant to the York County Community Health Center in Sanford, announced in June, the center will be able to triple the number of patients it sees each year, to about 6,000, said the center’s director, Martin Sable.

In addition, about 21 new jobs will be filled within two years, he said.

Because of the influx of new patients, the new, larger facility on Oak Street is needed, he said.

The first grant to open the York County Community Health Center in south Sanford was received in 2003, said Don Gean, executive director of the York County Shelter Programs. The mission was to provide services to the area’s homeless and residents of low-income housing.

With the new funding, the center will expand its mission and will be open to all, said Barbara Crider, executive director of York County Community Action Corporation. YCCAC applied for the New Access Point grant and administers the health center.

In addition to medical services, the center will provide dental and behavioral health care, she said.

Prior to the award, York County was the only county in the state without a federally qualified health center, which provide care to all, regardless of insurance, on a sliding scale, said Darcy Shargo, the COO of Maine Primary Care Association, the umbrella organization for the state’s federally qualified health centers.

Shargo estimates that the state’s 19 centers combined serve nearly 200,000 patients. However, there is still an unmet need, she said, and the Sanford center will fill part of that need.

The center “will really be a great asset to the entire community,” said Pingree.

“People need access to care,” she said, but when money is tight, as it is in the current economic climate, “people put off getting care.”

They then end up seeking emergency care, which is putting an economic strain on the country’s health care system, said Pingree, or they end up sick, with costly illnesses.

Through the Affordable Care Act, the federal government is spending $11 billion, “an unprecedented investment in primary and preventive infrastructure,” to meet the need for the newly insured, said Christie Hager, the regional director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, who attended Monday’s event.

Health care centers like the one that’s set to open in Springvale are a “critical part of that infrastructure,” she said, “by increasing the access to quality care.”

The Sanford clinic will be a model not only to New England but to the entire nation on how to best provide health care services, said Hager.

In addition to the grant received for the York County center, Health Access Network in Lincoln received an $800,000 New Access Point grant. Throughout the country, 219 health centers received a combined $129 million in grants this year.

— Staff Writer Dina Mendros can be contacted at 282-1535, Ext. 324 or [email protected].

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