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Community Health Centers and COVID-19

Community Health Centers (CHCs) have an important role to play in SARS-CoV-2 response. CHCs are community-based and organizations that provide primary care, mental health care and even dental care to populations with limited access to health care. Both House and Senate members are pushing leadership (SenateHouse) to include increased funding for CHCs in the next relief package.

Funding is an important first step to helping CHCs provide care to the 28 million low-income and disproportionately uninsured patients they see annually. But it’s not the only issue at play.

Any legislative action to support community health centers should:

1. Authorize relief funding

2. Expand telehealth services

3. Increase the number of Community Health Workers

Authorize relief funding: Like most health care providers, CHCs saw a dramatic decline in appointments during the second quarter of this year — almost 40 percent. As a result, nearly 2,000 sites closed their doors. Though the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act directed $1.32 billion to Community Health Centers for COVID-19 response and to maintain some regular capacity, it was not enough. To provide long-term stability for CHCs, the call for a five-year extension with $69.7 billion in funding makes sense.

Expand telehealth services: Many hospitals and physicians offices were able to adapt to the pandemic and move appointments online. Unfortunately, unlike their more resourced counterparts, CHCs were not prepared to transition appointments to telehealth. In 2018, 56 percent of CHCs did not have any telehealth use. Barriers included limited reimbursement, equipment, training for providers and inadequate broadband. CHCs provide mental health services, chronic care management, and primary. Moving these services online would help them better serve patients and meet them where they are at. Relief funding should include dedicated dollars to help CHCs modernize for the 21st century.

Increase the number of Community Health Workers: CHCs provide primary care services, mental health services, oral health services and countless other procedures to underserved populations on a sliding fee schedule. But often people don’t know the services are there and available to them. I find the health care system difficult to navigate as someone who has a career in health policy — I don’t know how to find out if a dentist is good in a new city or how to establish a relationship with a new primary care doctor. Yet there are millions of Americans who are uninsured, maybe who don’t speak English, and then they are expected to navigate a bureaucratic, convoluted system on their own.

Community Health Workers (CHWs) are worth their weight in gold — or more precisely they save $2.47 for every dollar spent. CHWs typically serve their own communities and are hired to provide social support, help patients navigate the health system and connect people to any services they may need. As we attempt to mitigate the damage of COVID-19 and move beyond this crisis, CHWs can be a key part to helping communities rebuild and access needed health care services — in particular services offered at Community Health Centers. One can imagine that it would make sense to have CHWs work in communities with meat packing facilities, nursing homes, and other communities ravaged by COVID-19. Unlike contact tracers which are necessary to get us through the pandemic, with adequate investment, CHW jobs could stick around for a while to provide vital services to underserved communities.

COVID-19 fact of the week: People with type A blood are 50 percent more likely to require a ventilator, according to a new study of patients in Italy and Spain. Furthermore, 23andme found that people with O type blood are less susceptible to the virus.

Read more here.

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