Now more than ever, health centers need adequate funding
By Sharad Kohli
Some view the coronavirus as a great equalizer because it affects every socio-economic class, from heads of state and celebrities to grocery workers and next-door neighbors. While this may be true for those who are infected, people dying from COVID19 often have diabetes, cardiovascular disease, or other underlying health conditions. Unfortunately, there are significant health disparities that lead to these conditions being more prevalent among people of color and those living in poverty. This pandemic has underscored the importance of a strong health care infrastructure that protects the most vulnerable in times of crisis, who otherwise may end up filling the emergency rooms and ICUs of hospitals across the country.
Community Health Centers (CHCs) such as People’s Community Clinic, CommUnityCare, and Lone Star Circle of Care are the primary and oftentimes only source of regular health care in underserved communities. Nationwide, this federally funded network provides health care services to the uninsured and underinsured at little to no cost to the patient. As Americans are losing jobs and their employer-sponsored health insurance, CHCs will continue to be the safety net of the health care system for millions of people.
Unfortunately, Congress is not adequately funding Community Health Centers at a time when they are needed most. Mandatory long-term funding for CHCs already had been on shaky ground prior to the pandemic, and now skyrocketing medical costs and decreases in routine visits are creating greater financial instability for health centers around the country. Although lawmakers added some emergency funding for CHCs in the last stimulus package, it’s not nearly enough to keep many health centers from quickly running out of money, and in some cases, closing their doors permanently.
At People’s Community Clinic, we rely on longterm funding to provide high quality health care to our patients and ensure the well-being of the communities we serve. Our staff understands that good health means more than just blood tests and medications. With any chronic medical issue, we do more than treat the illness; we assess the biological, psychological, social, and environmental factors contributing to disease.
What this means for our patients is that we attempt to look upstream at the underlying factors that contribute to illness. We offer exercise and cooking classes to promote wellness, and convene group visits to foster connection and emotional support. We have infrastructure in place to disseminate medically accurate information in multiple languages, which has already proven critical in alerting families and communities about protecting themselves against COVID19. Lawyers on staff offer patients legal assistance with matters which may affect their health, such as disability claims or tenants’ rights issues, and we also advocate for policies that improve the health and well-being of communities, such as paid sick leave so that sick workers can stay home and not risk infecting others. These services contribute to healthier, more resilient patients and communities, and ultimately create fewer burdens on the medical system, reduce costs, and save lives. It’s a health care investment Congress has deemed vital in the past and should continue to do so in the future.
The U.S. is only as safe as its most vulnerable citizens, and we need everyone to be as healthy as possible so that collectively we can defeat COVID-19. Health care practitioners should focus time, attention, and resources on caring for patients instead of worrying about whether they have enough funding to do their jobs.
Congress must pass additional emergency funding and mandatory long-term funding for CHCs immediately. By doing so, Community Health Centers will have the financial stability to continue to provide a medical safety net to the rapidly increasing number of unemployed and uninsured Americans, deliver high quality health care to the patients they serve, and create healthier, more resilient communities across the U.S. Dr. Kohli is a family medicine physician at People’s Community Clinic in Austin.