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Portland's Parkside neighborhood gets 'medical home' for those without health insurance

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Portland's Parkside neighborhood gets 'medical home' for those without health insurance

PORTLAND — The city has used a $1.3 million federal grant to open up a new health care facility in the Parkside neighborhood.

The Portland Community Health Center, 180 Parkside Ave., is a full service primary care medical facility serving patients of all ages.

The center accepts all private insurance, in addition to MaineCare and Medicaid. It also offers a sliding fee scale for patients without insurance. The center makes available interpreter services for residents whose primary language is not English.

Located across from King Middle School, the center is the first federally qualified health center in Cumberland County open to the general public. These types of health centers receive an enhanced Medicaid reimbursement from the government, which allows it to charge patients according to their ability to pay.

Executive Director Carol Schreck said the center is an opportunity to give primary health care to an under-served population, many of whom are immigrants. For patients who don't speak English, the center arranges for an interpreter to be present, either in-person or over the phone.

"A sizable portion of our population is the immigrant population, " she said. "Part of the grant is to really reach out to the immigrant population who don't have insurance or are under-insured to make sure that everybody has a medical home."

The current economy is also making the center, open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., a resource for people who have recently lost their jobs or coverage at work.

"We know there is more need than when the grant was written," Schreck said. "There are definitely more immigrants coming in and the economy is bringing people out that way. We've had people come in who haven't had health care in 20 years."

The center has seven exam rooms and provides family medicine, pediatrics, counseling and dental hygiene. Schreck said the center has treated 125-150 patients of varying age, ethnicity and income since opening Nov. 2. She expects that number to increase to 2,000 patients by 2011.

According to city officials, the lack of primary health care attributes to about $18 million in wasted heath-care dollars. Currently, 17 million people depend on community health centers for primary and preventative care. The White House Office of Management and Budget has ranked community health centers as one of the 10 most effective government programs in the U.S.

The center is currently operated under the city's public health department, but the center's board of directors will seek future grant funding independently from the city.

Portland Public Health is one of three divisions of the city's Health and Human Services Department, which also includes Social Services and Elderly Services. Its mission is to improve the health of individuals, families, and the community through disease prevention, health promotion and protection from environmental threats.

John Schreck, senior accountant for the Public Health Division, said the city received a two-year grant through the last year's stimulus package to start-up the center. The two-year grant, which expires in 2011, provides $650,000 each year for the center's operation.

When the grant expires, the center is expected to operate as its own nonprofit organization.

City Councilor David Marshall, who represents the city's west end, said the health center will provide a badly needed service in Parkside, Portland's most densely populated and diverse neighborhood.

"The health center is placed in the center of a neighborhood that can fully utilize its services," Marshall said. "It's a great resource for anyone, particularly those in need."

For more information about the health center or to schedule an appointment call 482-5000.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net