Health Care for Medically Underserved Patients and Communities Threatened if Congress Fails to Extend Community Health Center Fund, New Analysis Finds

WASHINGTON, D.C. and NEW YORK, N.Y. (Sept. 4, 2019) – Community health centers are likely to lay off staff, close clinic sites, and reduce or eliminate services if Congress fails to extend a critical source of funding by Sept. 30, concludes a new report. The report was produced by researchers at the Geiger Gibson/RCHN Community Health Foundation Research Collaborative at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health (Milken Institute SPH), in partnership with the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The Community Health Center Fund (CHCF) provides financial support for community health centers nationwide, accounting for 72 percent of all federal grant funding received by health centers. These funds allow community health centers to serve patients without health insurance, and to provide care not covered by public or private insurance, such as dental care for adults. A survey conducted from May to July 2019 sought information on how health centers are addressing the potential delay in extension of the Community Health Center Fund. Their responses, as detailed in the report, indicate that:

  • Nearly 60 percent of community health centers said they had instituted or were considering a hiring freeze.
  • More than half of community health centers said they had or would spend money in reserves, or cancel or delay planned facility renovations or expansions.
  • Over four in 10 health centers had or were considering reducing staff hours or laying off staff members.
  • About one-third said they had or were considering reducing operating hours.
  • Over a quarter of health centers said they had or would consider closing down a health center location.

“These findings underscore the serious consequences for patients, communities and health centers if the fund is not extended,” said Sara Rosenbaum, JD, the Harold and Jane Hirsh Professor of Health Law and Policy at Milken Institute SPH, one of the authors of the analysis.

The survey also found that failure to extend the fund means that after Sept. 30, health centers will face the need to more directly reduce health care services in order to offset the loss of operating funds. Among responding health centers:

  • Nearly four in 10 reported that they had or may scale back enabling services such as language translation services and transportation services to and from health clinics.
  • One quarter said they had or would consider eliminating dental or medical services.
  • One in five said they had or were considering eliminating or reducing mental health services.
  • About one in six said they had or were considering reducing or eliminating services that provide treatment for substance abuse.

Health centers are the largest single source of primary health care for medically underserved communities and populations. As a result, more than 28 million patients facing this loss of care are overwhelmingly low-income children and adults who face elevated health risks and live in communities with shortages of primary health care.

“The Community Health Center Fund was designed to ensure that community health centers have a stable source of funding so that they can meet the needs of their communities,” said Feygele Jacobs, DrPH, president and CEO of the RCHN Community Health Foundation, whose ongoing gift supports the Geiger Gibson Program. “Delays and instability in this essential federal funding stream will negatively affect children, adults and the elderly in high-need communities nationwide.”

The analysis, "Community Health Centers Prepare for Funding Uncertainty” was conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Geiger Gibson/RCHN Community Health Foundation Research Collaborative.

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The Geiger Gibson Program in Community Health Policy, established in 2003 and named after human rights and health center pioneers Drs. H. Jack Geiger and Count Gibson, is part of the Milken Institute School of Public Health at The George Washington University.

The RCHN Community Health Foundation is the only foundation in the U.S. dedicated solely to community health centers. The Foundation’s gift to the Geiger Gibson program supports health center research and scholarship.

The Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University is the only school of public health in the nation’s capital.