Health centers fret over federal funds

Feb 2, 2018
In The News

Friday, February 2, 2018

U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield pulled no punches Thursday when he voiced his deep concern about how community health centers across the country, including federally qualified health centers like the Opportunities Industralization Center’s Family Medical Center, could be closed due to a lack of federal funding.

Butterfield, D-1st District,  was the guest speaker at a Town Hall meeting hosted by OIC at the nonprofit group’s Community Health Education Center. Butterfield said more than 10,000 community health centers are waiting on a funding reauthorization from Congress. The possibility of another government shutdown looms on Feb. 8, unless Congress passes a long-term spending bill for fiscal year 2018.

Congress has relied on a series of short-term continuing resolutions to keep the government open. Reuben Blackwell, president and CEO of OIC, said unless Congress and the president can negotiate and pass a budget or approve another continuing resolution, then federally qualified health centers like OIC aren’t certain they will be funded through March or June.

Butterfield said the national media focused on the point of contention of the previous shutdown between Democrats and Republicans being just about immigration and protecting so-called “Dreamers.” While that’s a big sticking point, Butterfield said, there are other, larger issues the Democrats want to see addressed in the budget, such as community health centers, which affect people across all party lines.

“This is an emergency beyond any imagination,” Butterfield said. “Twenty-seven million people in America depend on primary health care from community health centers, and there are 10,000 centers all across America that are on the verge of shutting down. Nationally, the country would lose $3.6 billion and North Carolina would lose $69 million. Rocky Mount OIC would have to close its doors to 14,000 patients in Nash and Edgecombe counties, and there are thousands of jobs that are hanging in the balance in North Carolina for people that work for and support community health centers. The Rocky Mount community is outraged that the congressmen of the United States are refusing to fund health centers across America who treat 27 million Americans every day.”

ComWell Health is a community-governed and owned organization that has grown from a single health center to multiple locations serving more than 22,000 people annually throughout a six-county region of Southeastern North Carolina. CommWell Health provides comprehensive services and innovative programs to meet the needs of at-risk populations and linking them to highly responsive referral care network.

Pamela Tripp, CEO of ComWell Health, said the loss in funding would be devastating to supplying the health care of the working poor that it largely serves.

“The possibility is we would have to close almost every site,” Tripp said.

E. Benjamin Money, president and CEO of N.C. Community Health Center Association, said if 70 percent of federal funding to community health centers is cut, it’s going to cause a massive reduction in the number of people that can be served.

“What is going to happen is people are going to get turned away from the emergency room if it’s a non-emergency situation, and they may not get medication,” Money said. “People are going to be without diagnosis of conditions. Just like the woman that spoke that didn’t know she was suffering with mini strokes until she got treated at OIC, that type of condition, if it’s not diagnosed or treated, can end up being kidney failure, heart disease or a heart attack. That type of condition if not diagnosed can not only cause that individual a whole more pain and suffering, but cost a significant amount of money to treat.”