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In a recent announcement by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Family First Corp. has been named one of 1,184 health centers across the country to receive grant funding to improve and expand their services.

Family First, which has a location in downtown York at 116 South George St., was awarded $307,066 of the $500 million in Affordable Care Act funding doled out to nonprofit and public health centers. The funding includes roughly $350 million that will help centers to increase their ability to offer certain services, including dental, medical, behavioral, pharmacy and vision services. The remaining $150 million was awarded to 160 centers with plans to renovate their facilities.

Family First Health Corp. is a community health center with five different locations across York and Adams counties and is dedicated to coordinating care and working with other providers to offer patients the services they need.

Behavioral focus: Family First CEO Jenny Englerth said the federal funding will be used primarily for behavioral health services.

"We're really looking at existing sites and services and bettering our care and our reach," she said. "We're looking at coordinating services with our social service to help people who may be struggling."

Behavioral health refers to a range of factors under the umbrella of mental and emotional well-being, including things as simple as coping with day-to-day challenges, as well as the treatment of mental illnesses such as depression or personality disorder and other issues, such as substance abuse and other addictive behaviors.

Behavioral health "is all about behavior change. It could be something like helping someone reach a weight-loss goal or battling addiction," Englerth said.

"The more we are able to integrate a behavioral health approach, the more effective we can be in identifying things like depression."

Englerth credits the connection Family First has with its patients for the grant money.

"Knowing what our patients need in this area really allowed for us to be able to make an assessment and bring this money into our community," she said.

"Now we're looking at bringing these services a greater depth and really thinking outside the box to get patients what they need in order to get healthier."

Lack of resources: There is a need globally to expand treatment options for those with little or no insurance, and it is also visible on a local level in York County.

"That lack of resources is something that is very real here in our county; it's not just in places like Haiti or Guatemala," said clinical psychologist Polly Rost.

Those who face drug and alcohol problems and do not have ready access to health care and therapy are those at the highest risk, Rost said, adding that getting in sessions early on in a crisis could make a large impact later on.

"We need to focus on a more swift, efficient intervention for folks with limited resources. Because they are already vulnerable, adding a crisis to that equation can cause them to lose stability quickly," she said.

Rost also added that mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression cannot go untreated.

"To the best of our knowledge, no mental illness remits or drifts away over time," she said. "In fact, the opposite is true."

Those with mental illness or struggling with addiction can often find it difficult to get work, ultimately limiting their resources and access to the care they need, putting them in a cycle difficult to break, Rost said.

"That's why I'm so excited to hear about this grant money, to begin to break that cycle," she said. "There are certain realities of having those limited resources, and we need to target that population so we can provide care properly."

— Reach Jessica Schladebeck at jschladebeck@yorkdispatch.com

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