Originally created 01/19/99

U.S. funds should aid care center



CLEARWATER -- The financially troubled Margaret J. Weston Health Center has received some good news in the form of a check from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for $197,939.

"That's the good news that I brought to my board of directors last week," said Tony Dunn, executive director of the beleagured rural health care center. "It will enable us to operate through the end of the fiscal year."

The sum represented the release of money held back because of the center's tangled accounting procedures brought to light in a full program audit last May.

Those problems eventually resulted in an audit by the U.S. Inspector General's Office, which was completed in October.

The audit could result in a total loss of federal funding and consequently a shutdown of the rural health center. Interim reports by Jeffrey Bullock, the senior auditor from the Inspector General's Office, however, were encouraging, and Mr. Dunn said he was proceeding on a "no news is good news" assumption.

The nearly $200,000 coupled with an unrestricted gift of $4,000 from Westinghouse, plus the approximately $700,000 in revenue derived from patients, will see the health care facility through May 31, the end of its fiscal year, he said.

In August, the center received partial funding of the grant from the Bureau of Primary Care in the amount of $131,959 to carry it through November, when the audit report was scheduled to be completed.

Since then, the center has brought itself into compliance with regulations requiring it to hold over $56,000 in reserve for its mortgage payment. In addition, Medicare and other billing problems have been eliminated.

Still, the health facility is not home-free, even though the Bureau of Primary Care has decided to release the balance of this year's funding.

When the audit report is released by the Inspector General's Office, the agency reserves the right to review the center's application for next year's funding.

"As appropriate, the BPHC (Bureau of Primary Health Care) may follow up by (adding) conditions, and the adequacy of your responses to conditions may impact on your application for renewal of a project period as of June 1, 1999," Lawrence R. Poole, director of the Office of Grants Management, said in a letter to Mr. Dunn.

Mr. Dunn said he is optimistic that the news, when it finally comes from Washington, will be good and says the work of the center will continue.

Beginning today and continuing Wednesday, the South Carolina Lions Club will sponsor free vision, glaucoma and blood pressure screenings at the center from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Pat Willis covers North Augusta, Midland Valley and Edgefield County. She may be reached at (803)279-6895 or scbureau@augustachronicle.com.