By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN
BG Independent News
The uncertain status of federal funding for community health centers across the U.S. has left some local public health officials with a sick feeling.
After several delays and missed deadlines, Congress did pass funding for CHIP – the Children’s Health Insurance Program – which provides matching funds to states for health insurance to families with children.
Public health officials understood that the CHIP funding would be approved along with the federal funding for community health centers that serve low income patients.
“That didn’t happen,” said Joanne Navin, a retired nurse practitioner from Bowling Green, who serves as board president for the Wood County Community Health and Wellness Center.
The health center, located at the Wood County Health District on East Gypsy Lane Road, Bowling Green, was expected to get the $1.1 million promised by the federal government for 2018. With those funds last year, the center served about 1,500 unduplicated patients, making more than 3,700 visits for services such as pediatric, immunizations, screenings, chronic diseases, lab services, plus seniors, women’s and men’s care.
“It is just frightening that the federal government is denying health care to citizens of this country,” Navin said. “They are playing politics with it.”
Though the community health center accepts private pay patients, the primary purpose of the facility is to provide health care to low income, Medicaid patients.
Patients pay on a sliding fee scale, explained Diane Krill, chief executive officer of the community health center. The lack of federal funding for 2018 has led to the facility not filling the behavioral specialist position that was vacated after a person retired last year, Krill said.
The looming funding question is very frustrating for Krill, who expected the federal government to live up to its promises.
“I see the stats out there,” Krill said, referring to the number of people served across the nation at community health centers. The failure to act on the funding has put at risk 9 million patients’ access to health care, 50,000 jobs, and nearly 3,000 health center sites. Some centers will be forced to close down, Krill said.
The Wood County center does a good job of working within its budget, Navin said. But that doesn’t mean it can continue as is with its federal funding being yanked from the agency.
“It will mean a big hit to the budget,” she said. “You can only cut so much.”
Navin believes many in Wood County aren’t aware of the work performed at the community health center.
“A lot of people in the county don’t realize how important this is to us. We’re reaching a lot of people in the county. These are people who care about their patients,” she said about the center staff and management.
“It is a gem in our county that people are unaware of,” Navin said. “This is what we have – we don’t want to lose it.”
The services offered at the Wood County Community Health and Wellness Center are based on a county health assessment of local residents’ needs. Krill referred to the care as a patient-centered medical home for many.
“We’re putting the patient in the center of it,” she said, with staff helping to break down barriers for patients to get care, and following up with their needs to get care from specialists.
The lack of federal funding not only affects the existing health center, but also the county’s plans to expand the site to offer dental care to those without insurance.
“We will have to look seriously at what we can afford,” Navin said.
The dental clinic would be the only site in Wood County that won’t turn away uninsured patients. The health center has been awarded $824,997 for the construction of the dental clinic, but again the promised operating funds are on hold.
That may put the dental site at risk, Krill said. “It potentially could.”
To make people aware of the funding crisis, public health staff locally and around the nation have issued a “red alert” for Tuesday, Feb 6. Hundreds of advocates will be meeting with Congress to demand a fix to the “health center funding cliff.”
All health center advocates are being asked to wear red on Tuesday to show support for health centers, and call their legislators to convince them of the need.
“This is important to us,” Navin said.