A virulent flu season is underway and the number of opioid overdoses continues to climb, yet our public health is more vulnerable than ever because community health centers like CommWell Health are running out of time and money.
Critical funding for our program expired on Oct. 1, 2017. Since then, all health centers have been operating under a “funding cliff.” This phrase alone would lead one to think this is an issue solely about money. It is much more. It is about people and how decisions made (or left unmade) by Congress can have a ripple effect.
When people are sick, they need an accessible place to go for affordable care. At CommWell Health we are doing everything we can to ensure our medical, dental, behavioral health, substance use, HIV/AIDS, OB, prenatal care and other services remain viable and our patients receive the best quality of care — but it isn’t easy.
We are not the only ones. Health centers around the country are facing tough choices. They are laying off staff, cutting back services such as treatment for opioid addiction and prenatal care for pregnant mothers and planning for site closures and major reductions in services.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has projected that the impact of the funding cliff will result in the closure of 2,800 health center sites and the loss of health care access for 9 million patients. This is the reality of now.
Health care for more than 27 million people is being run on a monthto- month basis because Congress has failed to extend funding for our program. Provider recruitment and retention will be adversely affected.
America needs more affordable health, not less. Community health center programs have served the nation so well in terms of saving lives and taxpayer dollars. Health centers like ours have been in place for more than 50 years, opening access to care and providing a more affordable option for preventive care than a hospital emergency room.
Not only do we generate $24 billion in health care cost savings, we are also innovators who work with community partners to respond to public health crises, such as the opioid epidemic and the recent disasters that struck Texas, Florida, California and Puerto Rico.
There is little doubt that health centers have contributed significantly to cost savings for the American taxpayer. Our record of success is why our program has earned bipartisan support from U.S. presidents and lawmakers. And here’s the bitter irony behind the health center funding cliff: Most everyone agrees that Congress should extend funding and act now. Lawmakers must move beyond the political debate and focus on public health.
Pamela Tripp, M.S.O.M., M.Ed., is chief executive officer of CommWell Health in Dunn.