Supporting rural clinics, Pennsylvania's acting Health Secretary Michael Wolf toured the St. Luke's Miners Health Center in McAdoo yesterday.

The tour was held in support of Gov. Tom Corbett's proposed 2013-14 budget, which will increase access to health care in rural and underserved areas by funding community health centers and additional medical services. It will also involve expanding programs to help attract and retain health care practitioners. Corbett's $5 million health proposal was announced recently by Department of Health Acting Secretary Michael Wolf as a preview to the governor's 2013-14 budget address next week.

St. Luke's Health Network received a $200,000 grant in July 2011 for the two McAdoo clinics. The funds allowed the clinic to expand operations from three days to five days a week, allowing them to treat 3,000 more people a year.

Wolf said the administration of Gov. Tom Corbett wants to allocate $4 million to subsidize rural clinics. Corbett proposes inserting those funds into the budget for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

Wolf added that administration also proposes allocating $1 million for loans to recruit doctors, dentists and nurse practitioners to rural areas.

The loan program will permit doctors and dentists to borrow up to $100,000. It also allows other medical professionals to take loans of $60,000 if they agree to practice in rural areas for two years. Currently, the loan program limits loans to $64,000 for doctors and dentists and $40,000 for other health workers. Wolf mentioned the new levels would make Pennsylvania's program more competitive with those of other states.

"The department applauds and supports Governor Corbett's proposal that will help ensure immediate access to primary care in areas of the state that need it most," stressed Wolf. "These are milestone initiatives that will change the way we serve those who are underinsured or underserved, providing additional options for care and consistency in care over time." The proposal expands upon Senate Bill 5, sponsored by Senator Edwin Erickson (R-Chester), providing $4 million to establish the Community-Based Health Care Subsidy program as a way for the commonwealth to create new community-based health care clinics and expand services at existing clinics. These community-based clinics will create immediate access to or enhance preventative primary care services to underserved areas and uninsured individuals of the state. The remaining $1 million will be dedicated to the Primary Health Practitioner Loan Repayment Program (LRP) to recruit and retain health care providers in rural and underserved areas. The LRP expansion will create 24 new loan repayment slots for physicians, dentists and other health care practitioners. "Increasing funding to the loan repayment program will permit the department to provide additional funds to applicants that will allow for the recruitment and retention of more primary care physicians and practitioners in rural and underserved areas of the state," added Wolf. "Not only will this make Pennsylvania more competitive with other states, it will allow residents in rural areas of the state to have consistent access to quality practitioners and build a network of care that will be a much needed resource in these communities."Wolf discussed the governor's budget proposal in McAdoo yesterday while touring St. Luke's Miners Health Center, a 2012-13 recipient of a Community Primary Care Challenge Grant. As a result of the grant, the facility has been able to hire a full-time primary care physician, a full-time medical assistant and has increased its operations from three days to five days a week.

"When clinics are available, people use them instead of going to hospital emergency rooms for primary care," said Bill Moyer, President of St. Luke's Hospital - Miner's Campus in Coaldale. "Care in emergency rooms costs more, and people usually wait until they are sicker before eventually going to an emergency room."

The McAdoo clinic is open Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Tuesdays from 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. It is also open one Saturday a month. For more information, call the McAdoo center (14 North Kennedy Drive) at 877-346-0357.