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Senate Draft Fails to Deliver for Community Health Centers Fighting COVID-19

 

 

 

For Immediate Release: March 20, 2020

Contact:  Amy Simmons Farber 202/309-0338

Washington, D.C.- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell just released his latest draft legislation on the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) response, commonly referred to as Stimulus Bill #3. While it includes some funding for Community Health Centers, $1.32 billion, it does not include the level of funding needed to address health centers’ immediate needs on the frontlines of COVID-19, nor does the measure contain a long-term mandatory funding fix.  Without emergency funding, health centers, which serve 29 million patients in 12,000 local rural and urban communities nationwide, may have no choice but to halt operations in the middle of a global pandemic, leaving them unable to relieve pressure on hospital emergency rooms and ultimately save lives.

“Time is running out for Community Health Centers as they are being called upon to address this crisis and prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed by patients over the coming weeks,” said Tom Van Coverden, President and CEO of the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC).  “Health center staff are working under dire conditions, converting their facilities for urgent operations, coping with shortages of protective equipment (PPE), limited testing kits, and staff putting themselves at risk for exposure. The COVID-19 crisis demands health centers stay on the front lines, but their mandatory funding runs out on May 22 and not a single dollar of emergency funds has reached them yet.”

Health centers have been operating for months under a temporary mandatory funding measure, which has made it difficult to hire providers, plan services or expand capacity. This need is especially acute as the COVID-19 crisis has compounded their challenges.  Without resources, it is estimated that within three months over a quarter of health centers will have exhausted funds to pay operating expenses, and another 25 percent will have less than one month’s worth of cash on hand. Health centers are already initiating staff layoffs and consolidating operations as cost-cutting measures. Many health centers have shut down their dental operations. In other states, health centers are employing telehealth to safely screen patients without reimbursement.

NACHC and its 208,000 advocates have appealed to Congressional leaders for $3.2 billion in funding to sustain health center operations during the pandemic and for a stable, long-term reauthorization of health centers and essential workforce programs, such as the National Health Service Corps and Teaching Health Centers Graduate Medical Education Program. As America grapples with today’s serious pandemic, all of these programs remain critically important to the nation’s health care infrastructure

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Established in 1971, the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC) serves as the national voice for America’s Health Centers and as an advocate for health care access for the medically underserved and uninsured.

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