FUNDING CLIFF: Health centers currently in limbo
BAKERSVILLE – The lack of action by the United States Congress to pass legislation allocating funds to community health centers has put Mountain Community Health Center’s plans for expansion and the hiring of new employees on hold.
Without action in the next few weeks, hundreds of patients in Mitchell and surrounding counties – many living in or near poverty and in many cases without health insurance – could lose access to primary and preventive care, and providers and other staff could lose their jobs.
Mountain Community Health Partnership CEO Chuck Shelton said the continuing resolution adopted in December “did nothing for health centers.”
“We’ve been funded through March,” he said. “Since we don’t know anything for certain, we have had to hold back on our plans to expand and we have implemented hiring restrictions. It has put us in a state of limbo. We have never been this far down the path (of not getting funded). We have endured short-term delays – one or two months – without knowing, but not this long.”
Congress created a Health Center Fund in 2010 to sustain community health centers and in 2015 extended the fund for two years – that extension expired Sept. 30, 2017. A short-term fix was enacted by Congress in late December that lasts through March.
Funding is usually approved for three-to-five years at a time, Shelton said. If not approved, Bakersville Community Health Center and its subsidiaries could lose up to 70 percent, or $700,000, of its annual federal funding.
“I am optimistic something will be done,” Shelton said. “We have strong bipartisan support and we continue to reach out to our representatives in Washington. No one denies the value of health centers.”
The next opportunity is Thursday, Feb. 8, for Congressional action to fix the health center funding cliff. The Health Center Advocacy Network designated Tuesday, Feb. 6, as a “Day of Demonstration for America’s Health Centers” as a call to action. MCHP employees participated in the demonstration by wearing red to show support.