Hartsville, SC – To expand the capacity of community health centers to meet the anticipated increase in demand for 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.

CareSouth Carolina in Hartsville, which serves 37,000 patients at 10 sites in rural South Carolina, is one of only five federally qualified community health centers (CHCs) around the country to receive a RCHN CHF worker training grant this year. In partnership with Northeastern Technical College, the $199,308 award will allow CareSouth to increase the number of skilled community health workers and certified medical assistants and expand its “patient-centered team” model of care.

“We are thrilled to receive this grant that will help us to increase access to care and improve the patient experience,” said Ann Lewis, CEO, CareSouth Carolina. “As a rural health care provider, it can be a challenge to find workers with the right skills. This project will help us to develop our frontline staff, which is good news for our community both in terms of career opportunities and our ability to improve patient health.”

With a focus on chronic care, CareSouth Carolina plans to build on the success of the Learning from Effective Ambulatory Practices (LEAP) program supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The project will train staff who are essential to broadening and strengthening the Center’s capacity as a patient-centered medical home. Working with Northeastern Technical College, CareSouth Carolina will also use the grant funds to design and implement a certified Community Health Worker curriculum.
CHCs such as CareSouth Carolina are located in underserved communities where challenges to recruit and retain 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.

“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.”

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 CareSouth Carolina, this year’s other RCHN CHF workforce initiative grant recipients are:

  • El Rio Community Health Center, Tucson, Arizona – $198,467
  • Finger Lakes Community Health, Penn Yan, New York – $200,000
  • OneWorld Community Health Centers, Omaha, Nebraska – $189,343
  • Salud Family Health Centers, Fort Lupton, Colorado – $200,000

CareSouth Carolina is a private, non-profit community health center delivering patient-centered health and life care services to people in the Pee Dee region of South Carolina since 1980. In 2011, CareSouth Carolina served over 36,000 patients, 49% of whom had no health insurance. With more than 280 employees, CareSouth Carolina operates primary care centers in Bennettsville, Bishopville, Chesterfield, Cheraw, Hartsville, Lake View, McColl, and Society Hill. Services provided include family practice, pediatrics, geriatrics, social services, clinical counseling, laboratory, X-Ray and a pharmacy. CareSouth Carolina has been recognized as a national model of success in the delivery of health services to people in need in rural communities. www.caresouth-carolina.com 

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. www.rchnfoundation.org.