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West Virginia black lung clinics receive funding

By Whitney Burdette, Capitol reporter

Black lung clinics across West Virginia will receive federal funding, though the amount may be less than expected.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., announced Wednesday the state Department of Health and Human Resources and the West Virginia Primary Care Association will receive $626,520 each through the Black Lung Clinics Program, awarded by the federal Health Resources and Services Administration. Louise Reese, executive director of the Primary Care Association, said HRSA recently changed the rules for states and organizations to apply for federal black lung clinic funding, capping the amount each state could receive.

“West Virginia traditionally had one of the largest grants because of the rurality, the need and the capacity within the state to care for patients who have black lung,” Reese said. “Nine health centers receive funding to provide black lung services. When they changed the rules, it handicapped the state’s ability. They put a cap on the funding and that cap was significantly lower than what they had applied for in previous years.”

According to previous Daily Mail reports , the cap was placed at $900,000. West Virginia was the only state affected by the cap because it’s the only state to receive more than $900,000 in federal grant money in 2013. In an effort to maintain that level of funding, the state for the first time submitted two grants — one from DHHR and a complimentary grant from the Primary Care Association.

Each application, requesting $900,000, were submitted in March. However, the DHHR and Primary Care Association each only received about two-thirds of their requested amount, about $626,000, for a total of just over $1.2 million. That’s down from the $1.4 million HRSA awarded the state last year.

State officials were hopeful the federal government would award the whole $1.8 million requested, although they acknowledged in April HRSA could award less.

That presents a challenge to the Primary Care Association, which supports the nine member health centers through educational services, technical support and advocacy.

“When you heard we received less, yes we have received less,” Reese said. “The (DHHR) and the association will have to go back and submit new budgets with reduced funding and determine how we can provide sufficient resources to the health center. That’s the most important piece of this.”

Dr. Letitia Tierney, the state’s public health officer, said the DHHR is disappointed HRSA couldn’t fully fund the state’s black lung clinics.

“We are extremely disappointed in the funding approved for West Virginia’s Black Lung Program and by the unfair cap-and-tier system that only affects West Virginia,” Tierney said. “Besides the reduction, we have to now pay administrative costs, which means less money to support the clinics. Additionally, HRSA failed to provide any legitimate reasons for the funding award changes.”

HRSA Administrator Mary Wakefield said program changes were announced in September 2012 and the agency sought comment from states and organizations.

“Representatives from the state of West Virginia, as well as community-based organizations in the state, also provided input into the process,” she wrote. Reese said each clinic will decide how it responds to the reduced funding, and cuts in services and staff is not off the table.

“Each health center will have to assess their own program and make adjustments accordingly,” she said. “I’m sure there will be a reduction in services and or staffing, but it may vary by organization.”

Members of West Virginia’s congressional delegation have been working behind the scenes to secure full funding for the state’s black lung clinics, which serve 8,500 miners at 18 clinics statewide.

“Every single miner who suffers from black lung disease should receive the best treatment and medical care, and this funding helps make that possible,” Manchin said. “Our coal miners have mined the coal that keeps our lights on, heats our homes and powers our businesses.

The health and safety of our miners has always been one of the Mountain State’s top priorities, and I will continue to make sure our miners are always taken care of and supported.”

In March, Manchin, Sen. Jay Rockefeller and Rep. Nick Rahall wrote to HRSA criticizing the changes in black lung funding. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, a Republican, expressed their frustration at the funding cap, and Capito called it “illogical.” Tomblin pointed out West Virginia is the only state that would see a decrease in funding. The director of HRSA, in response to the letter from Manchin, Rockefeller and Rahall, suggested the state submit two grant applications.

Rahall and Rockefeller each issued statements Wednesday, thanking HRSA for the funds but acknowledging more needs to be done.

“I am pleased to have advocated on behalf of this critical funding and worked with Sens. Rockefeller and Manchin in getting every dollar possible for our clinics — it’s more than we expected under the new application process and just shy of full funding,” Rahall said. “Although it is less than what our state needs, it will go a long way in helping to provide the medical care and treatment our coal miners and families need and deserve.”

Rockefeller’s statement echoed Manchin, pointing out the importance of coal miners to the state’s economy.

“Our miners have dedicated their lives to their work, and we owe it to them and their families to provide them with the timely treatment of black lung disease,” Rockefeller said. “This award is promising news for miners and families, but with West Virginia still leading in the number of cases of black lung disease, we cannot rest until our state’s black lung clinics have all the resources necessary to care for our miners.”

Reese said the PCA appreciates receiving the funding, although it was less than expected.

“We’re appreciative of the funding,” she said. “We at least appreciate HRSA acknowledged their new funding methodology has a negative impact in a very rural state. Allowing two applications to be funded at least repairs some of that loss. We are appreciative.”

Contact writer Whitney Burdette at 304-348-7939 or whitney.burdette@dailymailwv.com. Follow her at www.Twitter.com/wburdette_DM.


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