For Immediate Release: March 27, 2020
Contact: Amy Simmons Farber: 202-309-0338
Washington, D.C. — The most recent stimulus bill cleared by Congress today contains $1.32 billion in funding to aid the Community Health Center response to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), but this funding will not be sufficient to sustain health center capacity if the pandemic continues at its current pace for more than 6-8 weeks and the numbers of patients infected with the virus soars. The final measure also extends mandatory funding for health centers, the National Health Service Corps, and the Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education Program, but only through November.
“As frontline providers, Community Health Centers commend Congress for moving quickly on the most recent stimulus bill during the COVID-19 crisis and for recognizing the critical role health centers play, serving nearly 30 million people in 12,000 vulnerable communities nationwide,” said Tom Van Coverden, President and CEO of the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC). “However, the funding falls short and we will be working with Congress to request their assistance and partnership to meet ongoing vital needs. First and foremost, for the COVID-19 crisis, Congressional action resulted in $1.9 billion less than the $3.2 billion requested and health centers need that additional emergency funding right away.”
Health centers are best positioned to help take the load from hospitals which are destabilizing due to the surges in the demand for care. Health centers are adapting and transforming their practices in a matter of days or weeks—starting testing sites, converting their facilities, transitioning to virtual visits, and developing clinical staffing protocols to adapt to a fluid public health crisis. However, health centers must have access to critical supplies that are equitably distributed, such as personal protective equipment and testing kits, the absence of which has placed health center workers at great risk.
Next, the combined effect of statewide and countywide lockdowns has triggered a wave of canceled primary, dental, and vision services and caused massive financial losses for health centers and other providers over the last two weeks. Health centers are the health care homes to millions of vulnerable patients, often with multiple complex, chronic conditions, and also serve one in nine children. It is critical that health centers can maintain operations and retain their workforce during this crisis so that they may resume the business of caring for their vulnerable communities when COVID-19 subsides.
Van Coverden added, “Even prior to COVID-19, health centers were facing a devastating funding cliff as their latest mandatory funding extension was set to expire May 22. While House and Senate committees voted last year on a bipartisan basis to extend this funding for four and five years, respectively, today’s stimulus package extended this funding only through November 30, putting financial stability of the health safety net at risk.”
“While we all hope that the next 6-8 weeks allows sufficient time for our country to turn the corner in its fight against COVID-19, health centers, along with many other essential health care providers, will need another infusion of resources very soon,” said Van Coverden. “At the same time, it would be reckless and irresponsible if we did not heed the lessons of recent and more frequent natural disasters, such as Zika and Ebola, and do all that we could to help build our system of care to adequately prepare for the next emergency.”
“Health centers have always been about serving people and communities across this nation,” said Van Coverden, “and they stand ready to play a significant role in this current crisis. As their national association, NACHC will continue to advocate for the resources to enable health centers to accomplish their critical mission.”
NACHC is working in partnership with the Department of Health and Human Services, the Bureau of Primary Health Care and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and a host of relief organizations to help health centers navigate the rapidly escalating global pandemic of COVID-19.
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.