Federal score comes in for Bristol health center
BRISTOL — Since Bristol’s Five Town Health Alliance (5THA) discovered it would not get funding this year for a Federally Qualified Health Center, or FQHC, it has waited patiently for federal reviewers to return its application score with their critiques.
Last week the 5THA received that score — 86 out of 120 possible points. U.S. Department of Health Press Officer Richard Olague told the Independent that federal law prohibits the disclosure of other applicant scores — which would provide context for the 5THA’s score — because applicants were assessed by an “objective review.”
He did, however, shed a little light on the 5THA’s application.
“A score of 70 or higher is considered to be in the approvable range for funding,” he said in an e-mail. But that is only if there is another round of funding and if the 5THA’s score of an 86 makes the cut.
Although reviewers provided the 5THA with feedback to augment its application, there might not be a new window to submit fresh applications next year.
“On the whole, it’s really good news and it shows that we have many strengths and there are some weaknesses in the project that we’ll correct if we get the opportunity,” said 5THA President Nancy Marnellos.
But the question remains: Will the alliance get another opportunity to compete next year for funding from the U.S. Health Resources and Service Administration (HRSA)?
“HRSA holds onto all of these applications for a year and higher scoring applications might get funded in a later batch,” said Kate Simmons, manager of Vermont operations for the Bi-state Primary Care Association, which wrote the grant application for the Bristol group.
Simmons said the 5THA did score well, but others likely scored higher.
After reading over the reviewers’ comments, Simmons said the application’s strengths lied in the 5THA’s community approach.
“It was very clear that this is a very community-minded group and that the group really understood the ins and outs and needs of the community,” said Simmons. “I think the collaboration section was very strong as well.”
What the application appears to lack is details. For example, the reviewers liked the idea of the 5THA collaborating with the Addison County Dental Center, but wanted more specifics.
“At the time that we were developing the project … there were no finalized plans (between the 5THA and the dental center),” said Simmons. “So the viewer’s sense was that it would be a great partnership, but not enough concrete details were provided.”
The proposed staffing plan was another concern, said Simmons. Since many physicians would be fulfilling administrative duties, reviewers were concerned that they wouldn’t have enough time to provide proper care.
Details surrounding the proposed budget were also lacking.
“A little more on some of the line items could have been used,” said Simmons. “(Reviewers) sometimes like knowing exactly what types of equipment will be used.”
If the U.S. Health Resources and Service Administration (HRSA) opens up to another round of applicants, the 5THA will have a chance to augment its plan. But Simmons said that’s not likely.
“We don’t know whether there’s going to be another (application) opportunity in the next year,” she said. “I think it’s more likely that HRSA would not have another funding opportunity and fund some of the higher scoring applications that were not yet funded. And in that case there would not be an opportunity for the Bristol group to submit another application.”
The 5THA will meet on Oct. 17 to discuss how to proceed from here.
Reporter Andrew Stein is at email@example.com