Modern Healthcare is providing COVID-19 coverage for free as a public service and a show of appreciation for the frontline workers in this battle against the epidemic. To support this essential journalism, please subscribe here.
Community health centers to get $100 million to bolster COVID-19 response, but more is likely to be needed, advocates say
Federal health officials on Tuesday said they have awarded community health centers $100 million to help in their response efforts to the COVID-19 outbreak.
The funding is part of the $8.3 billion emergency funding package signed into law by President Donald Trump on March 6. Funding will be allocated by the Health Resources and Services Administration with health centers receiving awards ranging from $50,000 to $320,000.
On a call with reporters held Tuesday, HRSA Administrator Tom Engels said health centers will be able to use the funding to buy personal protective equipment and medical supplies, build up their testing and screening capabilities, or expand their telehealth offerings. "Community health centers play a vital role in this whole effort," Engels said. "They continue to play a vital role and have been playing a vital role in providing healthcare to some of the most vulnerable individuals in this country."
James Macrae, associate administrator for HRSA's Bureau for Primary Health Care, said health centers can reduce the number of COVID-19 patients visiting emergency departments by handling many of the patients with milder and more moderate symptoms. The country's nearly 1,400 community health centers provide services for 28 million people annually at more than 13,000 sites, and are often the only point of care for the poorest and most medically vulnerable Americans.
Yet it is unlikely that $100 million is enough and unclear how prepared health centers are to handle a potential influx of COVID-19 patients. Steve Carey, chief strategy officer for the National Association of Community Health Centers, estimated the level of need among community health centers has only increased in recent weeks as many providers have experienced declines in patient volume and revenues as a result of the pandemic.
Without adequate funding , Carey feared health centers may be forced to lay off staff to keep operating at a time when health workers will be needed the most to address the outbreak. "We are the shock absorbers for hospitals," Carey said. "Hospitals are going to be overwhelmed and we are on the front line of healthcare on all of these issues."
The number of reported COVID-19 cases has reached more than 44,000 as of Tuesday, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. The vast majority of cases have been designated as being 'under investigation', which means they were acquired within the community, but the exact source of the infection remains unknown.
Community health centers advocates have expressed concerns that many providers may not be prepared to handle a pandemic due to a lack of resources such as protective equipment and testing kits.
While the supplemental funding will help, Engels urged Congress to fully re-authorize the Community Health Center Fund program before it expires May 22 to ensure providers have sufficient resources to keep operating.
Created by the Affordable Care Act, the CHCF program awards grants to community health centers whose patients come from medically underserved populations and accounts for 70% of federal funding to health centers.
"What we're doing now is a great start," Engels said. "But we need to get the full funding so that the health centers can rely upon their resources in order to continue to provide the services they are offering to people now."
As the world reacts to the unpredecedented COVID-19 pandemic, Modern Healthcare is covering the virus and its impact on the healthcare industry. Our coronavirus-related stories are free to the public, and we ask that you support our journalism here.
Send us a letter
Have an opinion about this story? Click here to submit a Letter to the Editor, and we may publish it in print.