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Health clinic faces fiscal hardship

By NORA DOYLE-BURR

Valley News Staff Writer

CANAAN — The leaders of the Mascoma Community Health Center in Canaan are seeking additional state and federal support to help manage the financial losses they expect will continue until there is a COVID-19 vaccine.

The nonprofit clinic, which sits on Roberts Road near Route 4 and first opened in 2017, has seen a reduction both in patient visits and in donations due to the pandemic, said Mike Samson, the clinic’s volunteer finance director who is also Canaan’s town administrator.

While the health center, which has a $1.6 million operating budget, has benefited from some emergency state and federal support thus far, it is not enough, Samson said.

“We’re not going broke,” Samson said. “We do need help just like every other medical practice needs.”

The Mascoma clinic fell about $50,000 behind on its bills during the months of August and September, he said, predicting that expenses will continue to exceed revenues by about $20,000 per month until a vaccine allows clinic staff to reduce the time they spend disinfecting and increase the time they spend seeing patients.

In total, the Mascoma clinic is seeking $220,000 to help from now through September 2021, Samson said.

During a meeting of the Legislative Advisory Board for the Governor’s Office for Emergency Relief and Recovery on Tuesday, legislators expressed a desire to help the Mascoma clinic weather the storm, but they did not come

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to an agreement as to how that might be accomplished.

“We’ve got to find a way to save this place,” said state Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester, according to a transcript of the meeting. “Look at the people they serve, look at the kind of service they give; nobody else gives it. And indeed we’ve got to find ... we have to find the money.”

The Mascoma clinic, which offers a sliding scale discount, provides medical and dental services to nearly 4,300 patients, a number that has continued to grow even during the pandemic, Samson said.

Since 2017, it has provided more than $300,000 in charitable care to uninsured patients, according to a presentation to the advisory board.

The clinic — which accepts most traditional insurance coverage, including Medicare, Medicaid and Tricare — has a four-month backlog of dental patients because it cannot see as many patients per day as it did before the pandemic along with related disinfection practices, Samson said.

So far, the center has received a mix of state and federal COVID-19 relief in the form of grants and of loans, including $106,525 from the New Hampshire COVID-19 Emergency Health System Relief Fund, $189,400 from the Paycheck Protection Program, and a donation of $20,000 from the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation.

The health center also has received amounts of less than $11,000 through the U.S. Small Business Administration Emergency Injury Disaster Loan program and an advance payment from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

Repayment of a $100,000 loan through the New Hampshire Community Development Finance Authority has been delayed until next year, as has debt service on a loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which should help lessen any immediate cash flow problems the health center is having.

Making loan repayments shouldn’t be a problem in the future as long as revenues, particularly in the area of dental care, return to normal levels, Samson said.

The clinic also plans to add a fifth day to its dental service, but it needs to hire a dental assistant to do so, he said.

Though paying bills has been tough in recent months, the clinic is current with its vendors for all but the months of August and September, Samson said.

Without additional governmental support, Samson said the clinic will have to look to philanthropy to get it through this rough patch.

In spite of the current challenges, “All the members of the board believe that we will be going forward,” he said.

The Mascoma clinic still aims to become a federally qualified health center in order to receive a federal grant to help support operating expenses, as well as other financial benefits.

Plans to join forces with HealthFirst Family Care Center, a Franklin, N.H.-based federally qualified health center, have been in limbo during the pandemic, Samson said.

But sometime over the next eight months he expects Mascoma Community Health Center, HealthFirst and Mid-State Health Center, which has offices in Plymouth, N.H., and Bristol, N.H., will “work collaboratively together.”

State Sen. Chuck Morse, R-Salem, said during the Tuesday meeting that legislators ought to work to support a “marriage between Mascoma and someone else,” at least in part because doing so might help the Mascoma clinic to qualify for other federal grants.

Taylor Caswell, the executive director of the state relief and recovery office, added that the state’s ability to help Mascoma may depend on additional COVID-19 relief at a federal level.

“I think an important part of this conversation will be whether or not Congress and the White House are able to come to any deal,” Caswell said.

The Governor’s Office for Emergency Relief and Recovery is slated to take up the issue of Mascoma Community Health Center’s request for funding at its next meeting on Tuesday. More information on the meeting can be found at www.goferr.nh.gov.

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@ vnews.com or 603-727-3213.

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