Conversations Mary K. Wakefield

Conversations: Mary K. Wakefield on getting ready to double the work of clinics

Monday, June 21, 2010

Mary K. Wakefield, 55, is the administrator of the Health Resources and Services Administration, an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The agency oversees community health centers across the nation and programs that bring health care to the uninsured.

The health-care legislation signed into law in March provides a major boost to community health centers: $11 billion over five years. The first of these federally supported primary-care clinics opened in 1965.

The health-care overhaul also provides funding to increase the supply of primary-care providers. On Wednesday, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius announced that the federal government will spend $250 million in programs to increase the number of doctors, nurses and other care providers. The programs come under the jurisdiction of HRSA.

Wakefield, a nurse who is a leading expert in rural health care, was appointed to the position in February 2009. She was associate dean for rural health at the University of North Dakota's School of Medicine and Health Sciences and directed the university's Center for Rural Health.

Here are excerpts of an interview with her:

Q What's your agency's role in implementing specific programs under the recently passed health-care legislation?

Probably the easiest way to think about HRSA's role is along four major themes, or areas of focus. One is supporting maternal and child health. Two is investing in the health-care workforce. Three would be broadening and expanding access to discounted drugs for safety-net providers. Four is increasing access to primary-care services.

The biggest component is the additional funds for community health centers, right? How will that work?

From the funding perspective, the answer to that would be yes . . . .

The health centers' expansion through the Affordable Care Act focuses in three areas. It expands the number of sites and locations. It also supports expanded health-care services, such as oral health-care services and mental health services. . . . The last area of focus is to support construction and renovation of community health centers.

How many patients do the centers serve, and how do you expect that to change?

Right now, the health centers, in total, serve about 19 million patients a year. That includes, so far, an additional 2.1 million served as a result of the [stimulus funds]. On that base, the Affordable Care Act provides $11 billion over five years, and we expect this investment will approximately double the number of people seen in health centers. It will enable us to serve about 20 million patients over five years.

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