Penn Yan, NY – To expand the capacity of community health centers to meet the anticipated increase in demand for health care, the RCHN Community Health Foundation (RCHN CHF) has awarded $2 million in grants to recruit, train and retain health center workers such as medical assistants, receptionists, care managers, and health system navigators. These workers are typically a patient’s first and primary connection to their health care provider and essential to a health center’s operations.

Finger Lakes Community Health (Finger Lakes) in Penn Yan, which serves more than 17,000 patients in upstate New York, is one of only five federally qualified community health centers (FQHCs) around the country to receive a RCHN CHF worker training grant this year. The $200,000 award will allow Finger Lakes to improve the cultural competency of health care center staff who work with migrant and seasonal farm workers, the homeless, and other vulnerable patients.

“We are thrilled to receive this award that will help us to expand and improve the quality of the care we provide,” said Finger Lakes Chief Executive Director Mary Zelazny. “All of us who work in community health are grappling with how to meet the expected increased demand for care. Our ability to recruit and train the skilled workers necessary to keep our health centers running smoothly is vital to the well-being of our patients.”

To meet increased patient demand, Finger Lakes will be adding three new facilities this spring to the eight full-time and several part-time health centers it currently operates. Working in collaboration with the National Center for Farmworker Health, Health Center Network of New York, Hudson River Health Care, and Oak Orchard Community Health Center, Finger Lakes will design and implement an initiative to improve the skills and retention of “point-of-entry” workers – receptionists, registration specialists, community health and outreach workers, and others – who engage vulnerable patients.

“Our ability to meet a greater demand for health care falls squarely on our system’s ability to increase capacity,” said Julio Bellber, President and CEO of RCHN CHF. “That means we must prepare our nation’s 1,200 community health centers to recruit, train, and retain workers who can meet increased patient care needs.”

Community health centers such as Finger Lakes are located in underserved communities where challenges to recruiting and retaining a skilled workforce often include a limited labor pool, lack of vocational training, and language and cultural barriers. Yet, our nation relies on community health centers to provide care to more than 22 million people each year, and that number is expected to increase dramatically when the Affordable Care Act takes full effect in 2014.

To this end, RCHN CHF awarded $1 million in worker training grants to five health centers in 2012, with a second million to five more centers this year. In addition to Finger Lakes, the 2013 RCHN CHF workforce initiative grant recipients are:

  • CareSouth Carolina, Hartsville, South Carolina – $199,308
  • El Rio Community Health Center, Tucson, Arizona – $198,467
  • OneWorld Community Health Centers , Omaha, Nebraska – $189,343
  • Salud Family Health Centers, Fort Lupton, Colorado – $200,000

Finger Lakes Community Health (FLCH) was founded in 1989 as a health care provider for agricultural workers. Today, FLCH provides comprehensive care for everyone, with eight health centers in New York State, including in Sodus, Port Byron, Geneva, Penn Yan, King Ferry, Bath, and Dundee. FLCH also administers one of 22 federal migrant voucher programs in the U.S. to provide health services to farm workers in 42 Upstate NY counties. Finger Lakes Community Health is part of the Federally Qualified Health Center system, which provides funds to assist uninsured patients.

The RCHN Community Health Foundation is a not-for-profit operating foundation established to support community health centers through strategic investment, outreach, education, and cutting-edge health policy research. The only foundation in the U.S. dedicated solely to community health centers, RCHN CHF builds on a long-standing commitment to providing accessible, high-quality, community-based healthcare services for underserved and medically vulnerable populations.