How New Markets Tax Credits are fueling rural health center expansions

or years, the Lāna’i Community Health Center in Hawaii operated out of a 900-square-foot converted three-bedroom house, offering care to all comers, but with limited ability to attract physicians and provide specialty services. Today, it boasts a 6,800-square-foot facility with vastly expanded services and space to train locals for healthcare careers.

Before, families had to choose between costly trips to Oahu or Maui for mammograms and prenatal care and putting food on the table. Now, there are follow-up services for premature babies and heart attack victims, and onsite dental and vision services. The health center also offers teledermatology and telepyschiatry services to its roughly 3,000 inhabitants.

The lay of the land

Since 2010, 71 rural hospitals have closed and another 683 are at risk of closing — limiting access to care and further depressing local economies, according to the National Rural Health Association. Fueling the crisis are cuts in Medicare payments and the Affordable Care Act, which rewards hospitals that do a high-volume business. Cuts in reimbursement for bad debt have been especially hard on rural hospitals and health centers.

While federally qualified health centers have received some federal funding for capital projects in recent years, those opportunities don’t come around everyday, says Sharon Beaty, CEO of Mid-State Health Center in New Hampshire. The U.S. Department of Agriculture sometimes funds rural healthcare projects with low-interest loans or loan guarantees, but generally, obtaining funding from economic development sources is more realistic, she adds.

Off the main land

For Lāna’i and a handful of other rural health centers, the answer was the federal New Markets Tax Credit program...

Read the full article at Healthcare Dive