Pingree helps unravel ‘red tape’ for Portland health center, secures crucial funding

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree discusses the increase in frequency and intensity of rain and snow storms described in a new Environment Maine report Tuesday, July 31, 2012, during a news conference at Portland City Hall.
U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree discusses the increase in frequency and intensity of rain and snow storms described in a new Environment Maine report Tuesday, July 31, 2012, during a news conference at Portland City Hall. Buy Photo
Posted Jan. 15, 2013, at 5:36 p.m.
The Portland Community Health Clinic on Park Avenue, as seen here on Jan. 15, 2013, is in line to receive just more than $680,000 in federal funding, according to the office of U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine.
The Portland Community Health Clinic on Park Avenue, as seen here on Jan. 15, 2013, is in line to receive just more than $680,000 in federal funding, according to the office of U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine. Buy Photo

PORTLAND, Maine — For the second time in two weeks, Portland public health care providers are receiving news that funding is on its way in time to keep clinic doors open.

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, announced Tuesday that the Portland Community Health Center will receive slightly more than $680,000 in federal funding to maintain and expand services at the Park Avenue institution.

The Tuesday announcement comes after Pingree helped the center transition from being a municipal operation to an independent nonprofit at the beginning of 2013. The changeover involved what the congresswoman’s office described Tuesday as “red tape that had threatened the short-term funding necessary to keep the health center operating.”

According to Pingree’s office, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services input the center’s grant information to its computer system incorrectly, threatening to delay the funding by weeks. But the congresswoman and her representatives pushed the department to expedite the funding after the correction was made in the system, center officials said.

“We really appreciate Congresswoman Pingree going to bat for us at a critical moment,” Leslie Brancato, chief executive officer of the center, said in a prepared statement. “The funding we needed to pay our staff last week had gotten held up because of a bureaucratic snafu and only after she got involved were we able to get it sorted out.”

The Portland Community Health Center provides medical and mental health care “for those in need without regard to their ability to pay,” according to Pingree’s office. Last week, the City of Portland announced that another of the city’s health care venues for low income residents, the Community Free Clinic on India Street, was saved from the brink of closure thanks to $93,000 in private donations during the past month.

Mercy Hospital ceased its annual $200,000 contribution to the Community Free Clinic in 2011 and emergency city funding ran out in September, forcing city officials to consider closing the clinic. But a series of donations emerged after the clinic’s dire situation made headlines, including $25,000 each from the Emanuel & Pauline A. Lerner Foundation, the John T. Gorman Foundation and an anonymous donor.

With Tuesday’s announcement of federal funding, both health care institutions will remain open in Portland at least through the year.

“The Portland Community Health Center is a lifeline to thousands of people in the area,” Pingree said in a statement. “Without it, many people would go without basic health care, and that’s especially true during tough economic times and when state programs are being cut.”

The Portland Community Health Center had been a municipal operation since 2009, and serves about 3,000 area patients on a sliding-scale payment basis.

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