ROCKLAND — The Knox County Health Clinic will receive $2.1 million in federal aid to establish a Federally Qualified Health Center.
The money will support renovations to an existing space and construction of new medical and dental offices.
The announcement was made Friday, July 1 by a news release from Democratic U.S. Congresswoman Chellie Pingree of North Haven. The $2.1 million is part of more than $31.6 million for Maine’s First District in the Fiscal Year 2023 House Appropriations bills.
“After more than a decade, Congress finally took back the power to directly fund the needs of our constituents last year. The millions of dollars that came back to Maine in Fiscal Year 2022 are already making a difference in our communities, and I’m thrilled we were able to build on that success this year,” said Congresswoman Pingree, a longtime member of the House Appropriations Committee and Chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies. “These projects will enrich our communities and create a better, more resilient Maine for generations to come.”
Knox County Health Clinic Executive Director Meredith Batley said most areas depend on Federally Qualified Health Centers for low cost care. Knox County is the only county in Maine without an accessible center, Batley said, with the only one in Knox County being on Vinalhaven which is an hour ferry ride away.
“We are very excited about the potential. While our services are essential, our current capacity is only a ‘band aid’, falling short of meeting the region’s needs,” Batley said. “Our current population is primarily the uninsured, served by a small team of staff and volunteers. An FQHC center will provide medical, dental, mental health and wellness care to everyone. It will take private insurance, Medicare, MaineCare and it will have a sliding scale if you have a high deductible or are paying out of pocket.”
The Clinic’s executive director said the clinic is having promising preliminary conversations with the town of Thomaston to site a brand new building there, which would allow for a “logarithmic expansion of our staffing and services, and make it very well positioned to serve the peninsula communities, as well as the surrounding region.”
“While we are thrilled by Representative Pingree’s announcement, this is by no means a done deal. We don’t have an exact timeline, as there are many steps still to go over the next year, including feasibility studies, site evaluation, architectural and engineering analyses, community approval, and federal approval of a health center application,” Batley said.
In May, Knox County Commissioners and the Knox County Budget Committee voted to provide $1.2 million to the clinic from the county’s American Rescue Plan.
“We recognize that health is not merely the absence of disease. Our vision defines overall health as a positive state, an aspirational goal that can be achieved by all individuals using a thoroughly integrated approach of compassionate, equitable, and affordable care,” she said.
The federal funds will not become available until next year.
“We still depend entirely on the generosity of our local grassroots neighbors to provide for our current operating budget and essential services. Their support means everything to us,” she concluded.
The Knox County Health Clinic, located at 22 White St., was founded in June 1999 by Dr. Paul and Jeannie Klainer. With significant community support, the clinic provides primary medical care to the working people of Knox County who cannot afford their own health insurance and do not qualify for Medicaid, Medicare or other programs, the Clinic states on its website.
A dental Program was added in April 2001 that serves patients both without insurance and those on Medicaid as there are no dentists in the region accepting Medicaid. In 2003, the Clinic began assisting patients in obtaining free medications through a Prescription Assistance Program. In 2008, the Clinic expanded its services to include mental health and wellness services.
More than 100 volunteers provide approximately 700 dental visits, 750 mental health and wellness visits, 800 medical visits, and $1.8 million worth of free medication to the community every year.
“After more than years in operation, we have grown, but we have not changed who we are: a grassroots, community supported network of over 100 volunteers,” the Clinic’s website states.
“Volunteers have helped diabetic patients regain control over their lives, brought back smiles to people who used to hide them in shame, and given essential care and vaccines to students now working as nurses and dentists in our community. For every success story, there is a person who is now able to live a healthy and productive life, the ripple effect this has in our community is immeasurable and tremendously valuable,” the Clinic states on its website.