A handful of health centers in and near the North Bay received grants totaling $11.8 million as part of a national program under the health care reform law, it was announced today.

Santa Rosa Community Health Centers, Sonoma Valley Community Health Center, West County Health Centers and Clinic Ole were among nearly 400 centers nationwide to share in $728 million of federal Health and Human Services Department funding for renovation and construction projects at community health centers. Stated goals are to expand and improve community health.

The North Bay recipients are part of the Redwood Community Health Coalition, a network of federally qualified health centers in Marin, Sonoma, Napa and Yolo counties. CommuniCare Health Centers in Davis also received a grant.

Including CommuniCare, the combined total of grants is about 8 percent of all such funding across California, according to Pedro Toledo,  director of government and community relations for the Redwood Coalition.

"This is great news for under-served people in our service area," Mr. Toledo said.

Sonoma Valley Community Health Center received $5 million, which it will use to include dental chairs at its new primary care clinic, according to Mr.Toledo. Likewise, Santa Rosa Community Health Centers was awarded $2.78 million, which it will use to build a Santa Rosa dental clinic.

Santa Rosa Community Health Centers will be able to renovate and equip its new dental clinic with 12 dental chairs and a staff of 24, serving approximately 6,000 people for 18,000 visits per year, according to the health centers, which  hope to open the new site in 12 to 18 months.

“Santa Rosa Community Health Centers is thrilled to have the federal resources to open a dental clinic in Santa Rosa," said Naomi Fuchs, CEO of the health centers. "More than half of our patients have never seen a dentist.  The new dental clinic will make it possible for them to get the care they need and deserve to have a healthy, productive life."

There are no dental providers in Santa Rosa Community Health Centers’ service area that treat uninsured or low-income patients with a sliding scale fee schedule.

West County Health Centers, based in Guerneville,  received a grant of $492,000 and Clinic Ole of Napa received $175,000, totaling $667,000, which will be used for facility improvements.

The group of health centers will be making much needed facility improvements at two of its clinic sites, including installing solar panels and making American with Disabilities Act improvements.

“(West County Health Centers)  is thrilled to receive Affordable Care Act funding to renovate our Russian River Health Center facility,” said Mary Szecsey, executive director of the centers, in a statement. "The grant will support building renovations at the Russian River center and improve accessibility for clients in the dental and mental health clinic."

The recent  awards are part of a series of capital investments made available to community health centers under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, which provides $9.5 billion to expand services over five years and $1.5 billion to support major construction and renovation projects at community health centers, according to HHS.

In the grant announcement today in Philadelphia, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius cited a report that says the ACA has supported 190 health center construction and renovation projects nationwide and created 67 new centers. Over the next two years, HHS projects the law will support construction of roughly 485 new health centers and creation of 245 others.

Such health centers are key to the health care reform law, targeting underserved populations  and absorbing a good deal of the 32 million Americans expected to enter the health care system by 2014. However, the U.S. Supreme Court is considering the constitutionality of the law's primary funding mechanisms.

Since 2009, employment at community health centers nationwide has increased by 15 percent, according to HHS. And, through the ACA and the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009, community health centers are serving nearly 3 million additional patients and will serve an additional 1.3 million additional new patients in the next two years.

The grant awards are from two capital programs for community health centers, according to the department.

The first will provide approximately $629 million to 171 existing health centers across the country for longer-term projects to expand facilities, improve existing services and serve more patients. This program will expand access to an additional 860,000 patients.

The second set of awards will provide approximately $99.3 million to 227 existing health centers to address pressing facility and equipment needs.

Currently, more than 8,500 health centers around the country provide care to more than 20 million patients, regardless of their ability to pay, according to HHS.

The Redwood Coalition serves about 180,000 individuals in its four-county region.