Two health providers in the area are expanding primary care services to underserved patients, regardless of ability to pay, thanks to a new federal designation.

The Health Resources and Services Administration recently designated Trillium Health and Tri-County Family Medicine Program as Federally-Qualified Health Center Look-Alikes, which means they qualify for many of the benefits that FQHCs receive.

Federally Qualified Health Centers are nonprofit outpatient clinics that serve medically underserved populations or areas, such as urban and rural communities. FQHCs offer comprehensive primary care, preventive care, dental services, mental health and substance abuse services and transportation services.

“The federal government sets a high bar for FQHCs. This new designation is a testament to Trillium Health and Tri-County’s deep commitment to underserved communities and to excellence in care delivery,” said Trilby de Jung, chief executive officer of FLHSA.

To qualify as an FQHC, nonprofit organizations must establish a sliding fee discount program and an ongoing quality assurance program. The majority of an FQHC’s board of directors must consist of patient representatives from the population it serves.

Andrea DeMeo, President and CEO of Trillium Health, said in a statement that the designation is an important achievement that “Reflects our mission to provide extraordinary, affordable and accessible quality health care to our community.”

As FQHCs, Trillium Health and Tri-County will receive enhanced Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement, better access to health providers to alleviate shortages and eligibility for other federal programs.

The additional federal funding will expand care and access, said Joyce Wheaton, CEO of Tri-County Family Medicine Program. “We already have evening hours and early morning hours, but these new resources will allow us to offer later appointments and earlier morning appointments.”

Wheaton noted that Tri-County’s population also includes many Medicare patients.  These additional resources will allow Tri-County to hire additional care managers to work with the chronically ill population and decrease the number of emergency department visits and inpatient re-admissions among their patient population. As a longer-term goal, Tri-County would like to explore offering dental services to Medicaid patients, who struggle with access to providers in the Southern Tier area, Wheaton said.

Trillium Health is located in Rochester, and has satellite offices in Bath, Geneva and Central Avenue in Rochester. Tri-County is located in Dansville and has satellite offices in Cohocton, Nunda, Wayland and Geneseo.

According to the Community Health Care Association of New York State, there are 600 FQHC sites across the state that serve 1.7 million patients. The association notes that FQHC patients are among the state’s most vulnerable: 24 percent speak a language other than English, 80,000 are homeless, 20,500 are migrant or seasonal farmworkers and 55,300 are seen at school-based health centers.