COVID-19 has launched a devastating blow to the financial health of Community Health Centers, impacting visits, revenue, and employment. Working on the front lines of this pandemic, many health centers have already seen a surge of patients who need COVID-19 screening and treatment. They have pivoted to meet the pandemic in a matter of weeks, converting their facilities, launching testing sites and telehealth screening. At the same time, routine primary health care has been turned on its head. Health centers are experiencing severe declines in primary and preventative care visits, such as those for medical, behavioral health and dental services, due to personal protective equipment shortages, government “stay-at-home” orders, and expectations that “non-essential” services be delayed. As a result, health center revenues are plummeting. NACHC estimates in a new fact sheet that over the next 6 months health centers will have 34 million fewer visits, leading to $7.6 billion in lost revenue, and ultimately costing 100,500 jobs.
This terrifying reduction comes as health centers (also known as Federally Qualified Health Centers or FQHCs) are working hard to divert people suffering from milder effects of the virus from overwhelming hospitals.
In an April 3rd letter NACHC President and CEO Tom Van Coverden pressed Health and Human Service Secretary Alex Azar for support, writing, “In recognition of the critical role that FQHCs [Community Health Centers] are serving on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the drastic revenue losses they are experiencing as a result, we request that you immediately allocate at least $3.1 billion from the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund (PHSSEF) to enable FQHCs to keep their doors open.”
NACHC is coordinating with federal partners and Capitol Hill leaders ensure health centers are supported on the front lines (read NACHC’s latest press release). They have also submitted to lawmakers a request of $7.6 billion in emergency funding over the next six months to assist health centers in the detection, prevention, and diagnosis of COVID-19. These funds would also provide resources needed to address health center revenue losses and enable them to remain open and alleviate pressure on hospitals as the number of COVID cases surge nationwide.
COVID-19 will not be with us forever, which is why it is essential that health centers have the resources to stay open. Once the sick recover, the biggest casualty that awaits will be a decimated primary health care system too weak to care for the millions of people who have delayed basic health services they will need more than ever.
NACHC staffer Amy Simmons Farber contributed to this blog post.