Today many across the country will remember the enduring legacy of Civil Rights Leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. They will celebrate all he stood for through acts of kindness and service. Many will remember the lines of his “I Have a Dream” from the 1963 March on Washington. And many today in the health care community are all too mindful of his observation that “Of all forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.”
It was indeed the inequality and injustice of health care in rural Mississippi that helped launch one of the first Community Health Centers. From there, the Community Health Center Movement sprang to life, thanks to a number of determined Civil Rights activists, doctors, and community health leaders who fought to end discrimination and to improve the lives of Americans living in poverty and in desperate need of health care. However, decades have passed and the work of health centers is still a challenge as inequality in health remains a stubborn reality.
Coming face to face with health inequality every day, health center staff understand that sometimes the conditions their patients face—whether it’s a lack of nutrition, homelessness, or substance abuse—are at the heart of their health issues. That’s why they work tirelessly to provide services to treat the whole person and go beyond the traditional exam room to address a multitude of community issues that are typically the cause of illness, such as illiteracy, joblessness, or food insecurity.
Although, society’s most pressing health issues may have and continue to change, health centers strive to provide quality, affordable care to all regardless of ability to pay. But despite their widespread bipartisan support, much of the work health centers have accomplished to address unequal access to health care is now in jeopardy. As we noted in a previous blog post, health centers are experiencing a massive funding cut called a “funding cliff.” Congress did pass a short-term Continuing Resolution extending government funding through January 19th. Health centers will receive 550 million, which is minimum amount necessary to maintain current services until March. Congress will revisit the issue this week. Meanwhile health centers are being affected. Some are imposing staff hiring freezes, or pausing work on much needed expansion projects, and at least one health center has closed a location due to the uncertainty of federal funding.
As health centers continue to honor Dr. King’s legacy everyday by using their talents to address health injustice, Congress should fix the Health Center Funding Cliff so that their good work can continue.