CECIL COUNTY — Wednesday, West Cecil Health Center received $749,885 from the United States Health Resources and Services Administration in response to the coronavirus.
“While I had grave concerns about the hundreds of millions of dollars of unrelated spending included in the Phase III Coronavirus emergency response bill... I am pleased our local front line rural health centers will soon receive significant financial assistance,” said Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD-01) in a news release.
These funds are part of the relief act totaling $1.3 billion released to health centers nationwide. Maryland's total share of the dispersement is $15,635,030 between 17 health centers.
"We knew help was on the way, but until today we didn't know how much we were going to receive, or what the specific conditions for use would be," John Ness, president and CEO of West Cecil Health Center, said on Wednesday.
Ness said he is grateful for the funds stemming from the CARES Act — also referred to as the Phase III congressional emergency legislation — as the Harford and Cecil counties centers have been "severely impacted" during this time.
"Is it enough? I wish I knew the answer to that," Ness told the Cecil Whig.
"The reality is that no one knows for certain the full extent or duration of this crisis, but I am optimistic and hopeful that things will get better soon. The stay at home order and social distancing is hard for all of us, but in the long run it's the best tool we have to get through this."
These funds are to be used to support the detection of coronavirus, prevent/diagnose/treat COVID-19 and to maintain/support the center's patient capacity and staffing levels.
Ness said that WCHC will use the federal funds to purchase personal protective equipment (PPE) as well as testing supplies "when they become available."
WCHC, much like other health care providers around the nation, have not been operating with sufficient PPE nor testing supplies. Between the Conowingo and Havre De Grace sites, the West Cecil Health Center has been able to test 21 patients — with three positive tests confirmed on Wednesday after contact with the Cecil Whig.
West Cecil Health Center is still working through the possibilities of expenditures that the funding is purposed for, "but it seems that they did a nice job in giving all the health centers a lot of flexibility in how they are able to use these funds to help fight coronavirus," Ness said.
Prior to the pandemic, the health center had telehealth capabilities built into its systems — fortunately, Ness said — making for a quick transition to virtual care. It will continue to refine those systems and workflows to bring online support staff, as well as better serve patients.
"We are also considering some modifications to our facilities to allow for safer in-person interactions between staff and patients," Ness said. "Funds will also be used to support our ability to maintain staffing levels in light of the significant losses in revenue that we've experienced."