Musbah Aden gets a COVID nasal swab test Saturday from registered nurse Amy Hesby at B Street Health Center’s walk-up window in Lewiston. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

LEWISTON — Community Clinical Services, a health center affiliated with St. Mary’s Health System, has received nearly $330,000 to expand COVID-19 testing capabilities, according to a joint statement from U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and U.S. Sen. Angus King.

Local officials say the funding will help address equitable access to COVID-19 testing and could lead to a more permanent testing site into the winter.

The funding was awarded as part of a $4.7 million allocation for 18 community health centers across Maine. Community Clinical Services operates the B-Street Health Center on Birch Street, as well as CCS Family Health Care on Campus Avenue and CCS Pediatrics on Sabattus Street.

The clinic on Birch Street is the closest testing facility for Lewiston’s downtown Tree Streets community, and hosted a walk-up testing event for the immigrant community this past weekend.

The testing was organized by a local task force established to support the new Mainer community following the release of figures that show Black residents have tested positive for COVID-19 at a rate more than 20 times higher than white residents, giving Maine the worst racial disparity in positive cases of any state in the country.

Coleen Elias, interim CEO of Community Clinical Services, said CCS will use the money over the next year “to expand our capacity to provide equitable access to COVID-19 testing, follow-up care management for positive cases and close contact exposures, and to purchase equipment, patient educational materials and supplies directly related to COVID-19 testing and care coordination.”

She said the organization is “incredibly grateful” to have received the federal funding to support its local response to the pandemic.

“In addition, we are looking at ways to develop a more permanent testing site option that will ensure we can provide a safe place for testing into the winter months,” she said. “The funding will also enable us to provide additional walk-up testing hours, including more Saturday clinics to ensure we meet the needs of community that we serve.”

She said funding for the most recent walk-up testing event did not come from the federal grant, but said once received, will “support our ability to provide additional Saturday clinics for better and more convenient access.”

Mayor Mark Cayer said Monday that from the onset of the pandemic, officials have been especially concerned for the downtown residential area, given the density of neighborhood. He acknowledged that any COVID-19 outbreak in the downtown area “would disproportionately affect a large population of our Black residents.”

He said the city has worked with local organizations to “better identify ways to prevent community spread” and is now involved in efforts to train contact tracers.

“We continue to advocate with the CDC, that local residents within some of our communities should be trained and funded as contact tracers, we have provided additional funding to local organizations working with residents of our downtown and we are currently identifying ways to provide education funding,” he said.

According to the news release from Collins and King, the funding was awarded through the Paycheck Protection Program & Health Care Enhancement Act that was signed into law April 24.

The legislation included $52.7 million for the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, $4.7 million for 18 Maine Community Health Centers, and nearly $2 million for 39 rural health clinics in Maine to support COVID-19 testing.

“Community Clinical Services provides high-quality health care to many seniors and low-income families throughout Androscoggin and Cumberland counties,” Collins and King said in a joint statement. “This important funding will support the health center’s ongoing efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic through increased testing and tracing.”

Community Clinical Services, a federally qualified health center, provides medical, behavioral and pediatric dental services to people in Lewiston, Auburn, Durham, Sabattus, Wales, Lisbon, Lisbon Falls, Poland, Minot, Mechanic Falls and New Gloucester.

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