With 2020 in the rearview mirror, Community Health Centers confront new challenges and a year that will hopefully look a lot different than the last. With passage of the stimulus package in the closing days of the year, health centers have some resources. President Trump signed into law on December 27, 2020, a massive spending bill that includes $1.4 trillion in government funding through the remainder of FY 2021 and $900+ billion in emergency COVID-19 relief. The funding package also includes Surprise Billing legislation. The bill passed Congress by a vote of 359-53 in the House and 91-7 in the Senate.
Congress approves mandatory funding for Community Health Centers
The bill includes the following funding provisions for Community Health Centers:
Three years of Mandatory Funding from FY2021 to FY2023 at $4 billion per year, $1.7 billion in Discretionary Funding (appropriations) for FY2021 and three-year mandatory funding extensions for Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education Program (THCGME), and the National Health Service Corps (NHSC).
The law also grants all health care providers (including health centers) the flexibility to calculate lost revenues under the Provider Relief Fund. There are also resources and support as health centers join with federal, state, and local partners to carry out a massive vaccination strategy and help bring about an end to the pandemic.
COVID-19 vaccination begins
The vaccination effort at health centers is already underway. NACHC is tracking reports of health centers getting their first doses of the vaccine and starting the process of vaccinating both staff and patients, depending on the doses available. A few highlights we know about so far:
Waianae Comprehensive Health Center in Hawaii has nearly finished vaccinating their 650 employees with the Pfizer COVID vaccine. The center mastered the complex transportation, storage, and vaccination clinics with impressive precision and has begun the process of educating the public about the safety of the COVID vaccine with a town hall that you can watch here.
CompleteCare Health Network in Bridgeton, New Jersey, has vaccinated about 130 staff members and health care volunteers with the Moderna vaccine and will continue vaccinating staff later this week. They are making plans to expand vaccination to a larger group, such as first responders, later in January, according to Kimberly Tweed, Director of Marketing & Development at the center.
Also in New Jersey, Henry J. Austin Health Center held a Facebook Live event in December to answer questions about vaccine safety, featuring CEO, Dr. Kemi Alli, CMO, Dr. Rachael Evans, and New Jersey Primary Care Association’s President and CEO, Selina Haq, Ph.D.
In rural southwest Georgia, Albany Area Primary Health Care (AAPHC), a COVID hot zone a few months ago, is preparing to vaccinate community members starting next week with their latest shipment of the Moderna vaccine.
“Phase 1A has been expanded to include adults aged 65 and older, law enforcement officers, firefighters, and first responders to the current group of individuals eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccination,” says Ronda Arline, Director of Nursing for AAPHC, in a press release issued by the health center.
Promoting equitable vaccine distribution
Vaccine equity also remains a special focus. Health centers are working to ensure all community residents who want a COVID vaccine can get one, especially in medically underserved communities of color who have been disproportionately affected by the virus, suffering higher rates of infections and hospitalizations.
Andrea Skolkin, CEO of OneWorld Community Health Centers Inc. in South Omaha, NE, underscored to the local Omaha World-Herald in a recent interview that minority populations “especially devastated” by the virus should be prioritized because they work jobs that expose them to greater risk.
Health centers serve millions of essential workers, millions of America’s essential workers – those who harvest our food in the field, clean public spaces, and work in our factories. Health centers also serve 14.5 million people in poverty, 2.9 million people 65 and older, 19 million people who are of minority background, 1.5 million homeless people, and 20 million people with chronic conditions. View our recent infographic to learn more about the work health centers are doing to help communities affected by COVID.