Aug. 25—RACINE — Gov. Tony Evers announced on Tuesday that he will use $250 million of the state's American Recovery Plan Act funds to establish two new programs to address disparities in health care.
What is the ARPA?
The American Rescue Plan Act is the $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package that immediately became a landmark legislation for President Joe Biden, who signed it into law on March 11.
The announcement came as the governor visited Racine, stopping at the proposed Julian Thomas Elementary School Health Clinic, 930 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.
"For too many people, access to care, compassionate providers, or an accessible clinic remains out of reach," Evers said. "Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic further underscored the health disparities and gaps in health care and access that many Wisconsinites face...
"Overall, these $250 million of new funds will help communities and neighborhoods right here in Racine and across our state bounce back from the pandemic," Evers said. "We're going to propel ourselves forward and build the sort of state that we want for ourselves with these resources."
The governor intends to put $50 million toward a health care infrastructure capital investment grant program that would assist local and tribal governments, as well as nonprofit health care organizations, build, expand or improve existing facilities.
This could include building a new facility in an underserved area — like the City of Racine and Racine Unified aim to do at Julian Thomas Elementary — or the expansion/renovating of an existing facility to serve more people.
The governor intends to use $200 million to establish a neighborhood investment fund grant program that would address housing projects, child care, the expansion of transit options and the development of public spaces.
Evers explained addressing health equity issues included addressing the inequity that exists in neighborhoods and communities in terms of access to transportation, child care, housing and includes "addressing the social determinants that impact people's health and success."
Mayor Cory Mason noted that Racine was one of the biggest communities in the Midwest without a federally funded health clinic.
Establishing a health clinic at the Julian Thomas Elementary School Health Clinic has been in the works for years. The clinic is overseen by the Racine Community Health Board, a nonprofit formed for the purpose of establishing the clinic.
Shebaniah Muhammad, president of the Racine Community Health Board, said: the more support the clinic has, the more services they can provide.
"We're here to serve the people and we look forward to opening so that everyone has access to affordable health care," Muhammad added. "No matter where they come from, no matter their income, insurance, lack of insurance, we know that the need is here."
The clinic, which may open sometime this fall, was designed to offer basic dental care, health care and some behavioral health care.
The clinic will give at-risk or underserved community members a place to go instead of going to the emergency room, which sometimes happens when people do not have the resources to see a doctor in private practice.
The clinic has two rooms for dental service, four examination rooms for health care, and two rooms for behavioral health care. It is expected to have a sliding-scale fee structure, and they will bill Medicaid, Medicare, and third-party private insurance.
As such, depending on a person's eligibility, the service might be free or it might be offered at a significantly reduced cost.
The governor's announcement received an enthusiastic response from the members of the Racine City Council who were present.
Alderman John Tate II, president of the City Council, noted the pandemic exposed the disparities that already existed in some Racine neighborhoods that had yet to recover from the loss of manufacturing jobs and previous recessions.
"If we only return to where we were, that's not really success, that's not really recovery, that's not really thriving for our communities," he said. "These grant programs are designed to not only bounce back but bounce beyond."
Tate continued: "If we use these funds accordingly and wisely and equitably, we can actually get to a place where everybody is taking advantage of the freedoms and the privileges and possibilities that exist in this country, not just those who are already in a good position and are able to avoid the challenges that come along."
Mason pointed out the proposed health clinic was made possible through the partnerships of Ascension All Saints Hospital, Advocate Aurora Health, Gateway Technical College, and the county of Racine as well as Racine Unified School District. "It's been a great community partnership."
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