The COVID-19 pandemic has made a tremendous impact on everyone, including Community Health Centers. Health centers need funding to continue to meet the needs of the communities they serve but there are a host of challenges on the horizon – funding, workforce shortages, and attacks on 340B.
“Health centers are on the front lines, delivering critical services and having to utilize these funds to expand COVID-19 testing nationwide, to monitor and manage COVID-19 systems to alleviate burden on emergency rooms and hospitals, coordinate with local state and health departments, to support a unified and comprehensive public health response to support ongoing central primary care and mental health services to patients, including the essential services needed to manage conditions that could these patients at risk,” said Thomas J. Engels, Administrator of the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), during today’s CHI@home general session.
Health centers continue on the front lines ensuring that their patients are cared for during this pandemic. Engels’ presentation highlighted data showing that nearly 97% report testing for COVID-19 and they have administered over 3.3 million COVID-19 tests. “That is an immense accomplishment,” he said.
CHI@Home attendees also heard from Jim Macrae, Associate Administrator, Bureau of Primary Health Care (BPCA) and Dr. Luis Padilla, Associate Administrator for Health Workforce, Director of National Health Services Corps, during the General Session.
Macrae touched on telehealth expansions, funding and the operational challenges health care centers have faced during the pandemic. He noted that health centers have returned to almost 80% visit levels, but site closures are continuing, especially among school-based and dental sites.
Macrae also highlighted that health center staff continue to put their lives at risk by going to work each day and a significant number have tested positive, some have even succumbed to the virus.
“We’ve been averaging about 600 staff had been testing positive every week. So almost 12,000 and we have lost providers and staff,” said Macrae.
Despite these setbacks from COVID-19, health centers continue to see an increase in patient visits and care.
“We’ve had a steady increase in the number of visits that has occurred within health centers,” said Dr. Padilla, “43% of them have been providing these services virtually. But the flip side of this is what is now being characterized as deferred care and the implications for deferred care in our workforce. More patients are not seeking regular care, health centers are highly concerned about the impacts of deferred care, both on the system and on provider wellbeing.”
While telehealth has helped with workforce challenges, Dr. Padilla noted the maldistribution of providers plaguing some areas and affecting access to care has worsened in the pandemic. Areas of concern for workforce challenges continue to be recruitment, retention, and attrition, and lastly, clinician burnout.
Finally, Engels reminded health care center leaders the critical role they play in ensuring that young people in communities vulnerable to preventable diseases and potentially fatal diseases, such as the measles, receive the vaccination coverage they need.
“We encourage health centers to encourage in who improve access to essential immunization services,” said Engel.
In addition, he suggested steps to follow to ensure access to immunization services:
- Extend hours—nights and weekends
- Inform patients about the COVID-19 safety precautions and practices your health centers has employees
- Encourage them to bring their children in for vaccinations
- Communicate the importance of childhood vaccinations
Share your thoughts on this great discussion and follow the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #NACHC20CHI!
Amy Simmons Farber contributed to this blog post.