Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout to clarify Texas' FQHC incubator grant program is poised to help prospective and existing community health centers across the state. TOMAGWA HealthCare Ministries is one safety net clinic that plans to apply for a share of the $20 million added to the statewide fund in 2021.

TOMAGWA HealthCare Ministries, a safety net clinic serving the Tomball, Magnolia and Waller area, is in the process of transitioning to a federally qualified health center, a designation that will allow the clinic to receive additional state and federal funding and bring more robust services to the community.

As the transition is costly, TOMAGWA hopes to apply to receive funds from Texas’ FQHC incubator grant program for new and existing community health centers, CEO Timika Simmons said. The Legislature approved $20 million for the program out of the state’s $16 billion in American Rescue Plan Act funds in 2021, said Jana Eubank, executive director of the Texas Association of Community Health Centers; the program had previously been defunded in 2011 amid Texas’ budget deficit. The program is poised to help prospective and existing community health centers across the state who may apply and receive a share of the grant funds, such as TOMAGWA.

“The incubator funding is essential because there is tremendous cost associated with going through this process,” Simmons said. “[This process is] administrative heavy, which is not how we’re used to operating. These costs are above what we can raise, especially in the current economy.”

TOMAGWA has been working toward the FQHC designation since 2020. Depending on when state grant applications open, Simmons said TOMAGWA could have its designation by the end of the year.

Simmons said the incubator funds would help TOMAGWA have the funds to hire the necessary staff and implement the administrative structure required by the Health Resources and Services Administration to apply for the FQHC status.

Eubank said the incubator program was established in 2003 to provide seed money to help new and existing health centers compete for federal grants. “Between 2003 and 2009, we were able to increase the number of patients served by 65%, so it really helped significantly increase the number of health centers and the services being offered and the number of people being served in Texas,” she said.

Rep. Tom Oliverson, R-Cypress, was honored in May with an award by the association and TOMAGWA for helping to champion adding funds to the incubator program.

“These FQHCs are frontline in a lot of our communities in the fight against COVID[-19], and it just makes sense to grow them and to create more of them,” he said in an interview.

The Texas Department of State Health Services had not yet opened grant applications as of early June, and Eubank said she believes there are more needs than funding available. Eubank said she plans to advocate for more funding in the upcoming legislative session.

“We did a survey just with our existing community health centers, and they reported to us that there’s over $200 million of need just in terms of new sites they’d like to establish or services,” Eubank said. “The incubator program, as great as it is that we got $20 million, it’s going to be gone in a blink.”