ROCKLAND — The Congressional spending bill that was approved last week includes $2.1 million for the Knox County Health Clinic.

“In response to the needs for expanded physician, dental and mental health services, the Knox Clinic seeks to become a Federally Qualified Health Center. In collaboration with and at the behest of the Town of Thomaston, the clinic will relocate from its current borrowed space in Rockland to new space in Thomaston. Concurrent with that move, the clinic will increase the size of its medical staff, increase its dental capacity, and increase its mental health counseling services. This will require new construction and new personnel,” a news release issued Friday, Dec. 23 by U.S. Sen. Angus King, independent of Maine, stated.

The possible site in Thomaston is the former state prison property known as the Thomaston Green.

“From food banks and hospitals to job training programs and infrastructure upgrades, Maine’s 2023 Congressionally-Directed Spending supports important projects across the state that will improve the lives of Maine people and invest in the future of our communities. These historic investments are going directly to the local organizations who need them the most and can effectively provide economic opportunities, personal enrichment, and other vital public services,” Sen. King stated in the news release.

The Senate and House both approved the legislation last week and President Joe Biden is expected to sign the bill into law.

The money will become available in 2023.

In July, U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, had announced that $2.1 million had been included in a proposed fiscal year 2023 budget bill. Rep. Pingree announced on Dec. 23 that the funding was included in legislation approved by Congress.

“Everyone deserves reliable, affordable access to quality health care. Founded, supported and run by its community members, the Knox Clinic embodies this ideal, giving the uninsured and underinsured critical access to quality medical, dental and mental health services,” Pingree said. “I’m thrilled I was able to secure funding for their expansion project in our Appropriations bill. As a clinic that generally relies on community donations and volunteers, this federal support will go a long way in helping the Clinic serve more Midcoast patients.”

Back in July, Knox County Health Clinic Executive Director Meredith Batley said most areas depend on Federally Qualified Health Centers for low-cost care. Knox County is the only county in Maine without an accessible center, Batley said, with the only one in Knox County being on Vinalhaven which is an hour ferry ride away.

“We are very excited about the potential,” Batley said. “While our services are essential, our current capacity is only a ‘band aid,’ falling short of meeting the region’s needs. Our current population is primarily the uninsured, served by a small team of staff and volunteers. An FQHC center will provide medical, dental, mental health and wellness care to everyone. It will take private insurance, Medicare, MaineCare and it will have a sliding scale if you have a high deductible or are paying out of pocket.”

She noted then that there were many steps still to go over the next year, including feasibility studies, site evaluation, architectural and engineering analyses, community approval, and federal approval of a health center application.

She stressed that the clinic still depend entirely on the generosity of its local grassroots neighbors to provide for the current operating budget and essential services.

The Knox County Health Clinic, located at 22 White St., was founded in June 1999 by Dr. Paul and Jeannie Klainer. With significant community support, the clinic provides primary medical care to the working people of Knox County who cannot afford their own health insurance and do not qualify for Medicaid, Medicare or other programs, the clinic states on its website.

A dental program was added in April 2001 that serves patients without insurance and those on Medicaid, as there are no dentists in the region accepting Medicaid. In 2003, the clinic began assisting patients in obtaining free medications through a Prescription Assistance Program. In 2008, the clinic expanded its services to include mental health and wellness services.

More than 100 volunteers provide approximately 700 dental visits, 750 mental health and wellness visits, 800 medical visits, and $1.8 million worth of free medication to the community every year.