With its funding set to expire next month, a program that trains Hispanic doctors may get a reprieve thanks to two U.S. legislators who were successful in pushing for a short-term extension of grants.
Their action allows 34 programs participating in the federally funded Centers of Excellence and Health Career Opportunity Program to apply for additional grant
through Sept. 30.
Despite the temporary extension, some programs like The Hispanic Center of Excellence at the Albert Einstein Medical Center in the Bronx, N.Y., remain uncertain about their long-term future. The Office of Management and Budget, a federal department that assists the Bush administration in preparation of the federal budget, told the staff that they would not receive the three years of funding that they had been promised because the services they offered were considered “ineffective.” (See “On Life Support” at www.diverseeducation.com/artman/publish/article_6386.shtml)
The five-year-old Hispanic Center of Excellence at Einstein Medical Center was created to encourage and support more Latinos entering the medical profession. Currently, the Center serves about 800 students each year.
The Hispanic Center of Excellence is not the only program that has been left in limbo. Over the past two fiscal years, Congress has severely cut funding for the overall Centers of Excellence grant program. That move effectively zeroed out almost all federal money available to the majority of academic institutions that have similar programs.
While the Centers of Excellence grant program recipients do not all cater exclusively to Hispanic students, all of the programs in some way seek to encourage minority students to pursue advanced degrees in the medical profession.
Rep. Joseph Crowley, D-N.Y. and Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., recently announced a rule change on the federal level that now allows these programs to continue to apply for emergency grant money from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other federal agencies beyond the looming May 31 deadline. It is possible that each Center that applies is denied funding, but Rep. Crowley said that he remains hopeful that all 34 of the Centers currently operating will receive short-term and ultimately permanent funding from the federal government to keep their programs active.
“This extension is a first step in ensuring the Centers of Excellence and the Health Career Opportunity Program can continue producing more minority doctors and nurses working in underserved areas,” said Crowley.
“Both of these federal programs were created to end the alarming shortage of health care professionals in minority neighborhoods and communities throughout our nation. That is why it is absolutely essential that these programs have the resources necessary to effectively address the disparities in minority health care while encouraging more Latinos, African-Americans and Native Americans to enter the medical field.”
Dr. Hal Strelnick, director of the Hispanic Center of Excellence at Einstein, said that he welcomes the lobbying efforts of Crowley and Durbin.
“This is, of course, good news,” said Strelnick, who cautions that even if the Center at Einstein receives temporary assistance from the government, additional dollars will be needed to keep the program afloat in the years to come. ”This program is so important and provides a real service to the community.”
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