Health Center Leaders Urge Congress to Fix Funding Cliff Before Leaving for Holidays

Contact: Amy Simmons Farber 301-347-0400 mobile 202/309-0338

Health Centers Confront Provider Losses, Site Closures and an Uncertain Future

Community Health Center leaders today described the impact of a massive funding cut to their budgets due to continued inaction by Congress, which thus far has failed to fix the funding cliff that took effect on October 1. Despite broad bipartisan support for the Health Centers program, lawmakers failed to reauthorize funding for the Community Health Center Fund (CHCF), opening the door to crippling service interruptions for patients and confusion in health systems across the U.S.

Time is running out, and if action is not taken before Jan. 1, 2018, many health centers will not be able to meet the demand for primary medical and dental services for the more than 27 million people who depend on them for care. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has projected that the national impact of the loss of funding will close 2,800 health center locations, eliminate more than 50,000 jobs, and result in loss of access to care for more than 9 million patients.

“When Congress failed to fix the funding cliff on October 1, we had no choice but to institute a hiring freeze and heartbreakingly reduce staff by 15 positions,” said Ross Brooks, CEO of Mountain Family Health Centers in Glenwood Springs, CO, one of 1499 health centers across the U.S. “Our payroll is more than $11 million a year in rural western Colorado, so we’re an important employer in our rural communities.”

Lolita A. Lopez, President and CEO of Westside Family Healthcare in Wilmington, DE, described how her health center was forced to close one site with a targeted service area of more than 20,000 low income people.

“Now our health center site is closed, and need for health care services is still there,” she said. “Although our patients might travel to our other sites 15 to 30 miles away, we know that some of these patients will not have easy access because of transportation barriers. We know what will happen – they will delay preventive care longer then they should, children won’t receive timely immunizations, and pregnant women will be late to prenatal care. Ultimately, many will end up in hospital emergency rooms for care at a higher cost to the health care system.”

Lopez noted that, due to the funding cliff, Westside is facing a potential loss of $5 million in federal grant funding. “We need action now before we are forced to close more of our sites,” she said.

Heather Pelletier, Executive Director of Fish River Rural Health, in Eagle Lake, ME, described how the funding cliff has hampered the health center’s efforts to recruit a dentist in a rural community with overwhelming oral health needs.

“We have a practicing dentist reaching retirement, and this was our hope to have an assured continuum of care for our underserved area,” she said. “We currently employ two of the three local dentists serving nearly 13,000 residents. The one local private practicing dentist has reached retirement age, leaving our region in absolute need for a dentist.”

“With each day that passes without congressional action, Community Health Centers are increasingly destabilized,” said Jana Eubank, Associate Vice President for Policy and Research at the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC). “While Congress has made clear this is a problem they want to fix – the House passed a bill that extends that funding for two years – but the Senate hasn’t acted yet and a long-term resolution is caught in the end-of-year legislative pileup, similar to the situation that CHIP is facing.”

While all health centers will be or already are affected by the funding cliff, there are 235 health center organizations in nearly 40 states that have new grant cycles starting January 2018, and are especially at risk if Congress does not pass a funding cliff fix.

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