Horizon Health Care, a Howard-based health center, was awarded $76,000 in late March by the Health Resources and Services Administration to help the health-care organization treat and prepare the public affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The HRSA, an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, awarded a total of $276,500 in grants to four South Dakota health centers. The health centers are expected to use the money for programs that include screening and testing methods, purchasing medical supplies, and boosting tele-health capacity in response to the coronavirus epidemic.

"The availability of these grant funds comes at a very crucial time, and we are utilizing the funds immediately to continue purchasing the needed equipment and supplies to keep our patients and staff safe," Wade Erickson, chief finance officer for Horizon Health Care, said.

According to Erickson, the Howard health center will keep the safety of patients and staff as its No. 1 priority.

"We are purchasing additional personal protective equipment and infection control supplies to keep our staff and patients safe," Erickson said. "We are also working hard within the communities we serve to provide as much patient and community education as possible to keep our communities well."

The staff at Horizon Health Care want to work at "flattening the curve" of the spread of the COVID-19 virus among the public. They also want to limit the impact and duration of the pandemic. The HHS grant will help support 32 Horizon Health Care clinics that operate in a 28,000-square-mile service area across South Dakota.

The three other South Dakota health centers that received HHS grant funds were the Community Health Center of the Black Hills Inc. in Rapid City ($67,000), Rural Health Care Inc. of Ft. Pierre ($62,000) and the city of Sioux Falls ($71,000).

On March 6, President Donald Trump signed into law the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act (for) 2020 that provided $8.3 billion in emergency funding for federal agencies to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak. The act included $100 million for HRSA-funded health centers operating across the United States.

The HHS Department made the funding immediately available to health-center recipients in South Dakota, calling them and other health centers "critical players" in the national response to the pandemic.

"We are very appreciative of the grant funds, but we also know that the financial impact of battling this pandemic is going to be substantial," Erickson said. "We are working very closely with the Horizon Health Foundation as they are rolling out a COVID-19 relief campaign to help support our staff with employee emergency-assistance funds as well as funds to help offset the operational losses that are occurring throughout all of our clinic locations across the state."