State

Merced Health centers get $9.5M

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration on Wednesday injected $9.5 million into the Golden Valley Health Centers so the Merced-based medical system can build a new clinic.

The money will fund a 27,000-square-foot structure planned for south Merced. Next to several Golden Valley facilities in an 11-acre setting, the new clinic will include geriatric care, specialty services and a training center.

"This is a wonderful early Christmas present," Golden Valley's chief executive officer Mike Sullivan said in a phone interview Wednesday, shortly after leaving a White House ceremony. "We're just thrilled."

Sullivan joined several dozen members of Congress along with administration health officials for the grant unveiling. It was an unusually elaborate presentation, reflecting that health care is the politically dominant topic inside the Beltway.

"The reason we've taken up this cause is the very same reason why so many members from both parties are here today," President Barack Obama said. "No matter what our politics are, we know that when it comes to health care, the people we serve deserve better."

Golden Valley Health Centers had done exceptionally well by the stimulus bill even before it learned about its latest grant. It has received $1.2 million to hire health workers and $2.5 million to improve facilities in Stanislaus County.

That means its total take from the economic recovery bill is $13.2 million, a sum that rivals the largest recipients of stimulus aid in the Northern San Joaquin Valley, such as Modesto City Schools' $23 million and the Stanislaus County Office of Education's $18 million.

Golden Valley's newest grant is one of the largest provided any health center nationwide. It amounts to roughly one-quarter of the clinic's total annual budget.

The money for the 85 community health centers receiving grants Wednesday comes from the $787 billion stimulus approved in February over Republican objections. Grants now are being announced on nearly a daily basis.

But the steady flow of stimulus money hasn't quieted conservative criticism, as Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma on Wednesday published a highly critical assessment of the $787 billion package.

While not specifically criticizing the health center funding, McCain and Coburn cited other stimulus projects, citing a $221,000 Indiana University study on why young men don't like condoms and a $20,000 Hollywood entertainment museum grant in arguing that "many projects may not produce the types of jobs that most Americans had hoped for or expected."

All told, $600 million in health center grants were announced Wednesday. Outside of Merced, the only other Central Valley organization to receive funding was Clinica Sierra Vista in Bakersfield.

Golden Valley and the other grant recipients all serve needy populations. For Golden Valley's existing 25 clinics, that population includes seasonal farmworkers, Southeast Asian immigrants and the homeless.

"We're giving places like these the funding they need to upgrade and expand their facilities so they can meet the skyrocketing demand for services that's come with this economic downturn," Obama said.

The grants were highly competitive, and involved some rolling of the dice.

The 85 grants distributed Wednesday, ranging from a high of $12 million to a low of $790,000, were selected from among about 600 applicants.

Sullivan said that "we took a risk" in the Golden Valley application by asking for 100 percent of the new clinic's construction cost.

Golden Valley also positioned itself tactically, noting that the clinic would be a "green" building.

"While creating new jobs, this will allow them to expand and meet the needs of our growing population of seniors," Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced, said in a statement.

Sullivan received an e-mail Monday alerting him to the grant announcement and inviting him to Washington for the event. Although he and other health care officials did not get private time with the president, they mingled with lawmakers such as Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer.

"It was quite an affair," Sullivan said.

Bee Washington Bureau reporter Michael Doyle can be reached at mdoyle@mcclatchydc.com or 202-383-0006.

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