Highmark gives $400,000 to free health clinic

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Highmark announced Thursday that it was providing the Catholic Charities Free Health Care Center with $400,000 in grants.

The gift, revealed at a news conference held in the Catholic Charities building Downtown, will help the clinic continue to provide free health and dental care.

Opened in 2007, the center caters to people who do not have health insurance through their job, cannot afford private insurance, do not qualify for Medicaid or other assistance and whose income is at or below 200 percent of federal poverty guidelines.

"This is one of those safety nets that, if it wasn't here, there'd be people falling through the cracks," said Dan Onorato, executive vice president for external affairs and communications at Highmark Health Services.

And although he acknowledged changes coming with the implementation next year of the Affordable Care Act, Mr. Onorato said he anticipated there will still be people for the Catholic Charities program to serve.

"We believe there will always be a need for it," he said.

Highmark Health Services and its charitable foundation have donated about $2.5 million to the center since it opened, helping to keep running a program that receives no funding from federal or state programs and does not charge patients or bill through insurance.

Instead, said Annette Fetchko, administrator for the center, the program's 2013-14 operating budget of almost $2.6 million relies on donations and grants, as well as the volunteer hours of more than 160 health care providers, including students from Duquesne University and the University of Pittsburgh.

The health care center has treated more than 15,000 patients during 35,000 medical and dental visits since 2007, and Thursday morning, the medical offices on the third floor of the Catholic Charities building were bustling, with doctors and dentists providing care to patients that ranges from routine dental exams to physical therapy and mental health counseling.

Idida Cruz, 64, of Lower Burrell didn't have an appointment Thursday, but she was at the Catholic Charities building to talk about how the clinic has helped her. For more than a decade, she has struggled with kidney disease, and nine months ago, she underwent a kidney transplant.

The Catholic Charities center helped her solve a concurrent problem -- her lack of dental insurance. For the past two years, she has received free dental checkups at the center.

"I cannot say enough about how much I appreciate the services I have and continue to receive," she said.

The health care center, located in the Catholic Charities building on Ninth Street, Downtown, is open Monday through Friday for scheduled appointments. Call 412-456-6911 for information about eligibility.

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Kaitlynn Riely: kriely@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1707.


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