Texas community health centers fear layoffs and closures without federal funding

Karina Ramirez has attended community health centers with her family all her life.

It’s affordable, the Nuestra Clinica del Valle is only 15 minutes from her home in Mercedes, she can go for her annual medical check-up, there is little waiting time and she likes her gynecologist. Ramirez, 18, seven months pregnant with her second child, says she doesn’t go to the doctor very often except for her monthly prenatal care appointments. She doesn’t know what she would do if the clinic had to close.

“I wouldn’t know; I should do some research,” said Ramirez, a certified nursing assistant at a nursing home.

Ramirez is among 23 million people — including 1.3 million Texans — who could lose access to community health centers in the coming weeks if the federal government does not renew their funding. Federal funds provide 70% of support for community health centers, but Congress allowed funding to expire Oct. 1 and clinics say they will run out of money in March. Health advocates say that while community health centers typically enjoy bipartisan support in Congress, recent fights over immigration, taxes and the children’s health insurance program have put them at risk of reducing costs. services, lay off staff or close.

“I feel like we’ve been a son-in-law,” said Katy Caldwell, CEO of Legacy Community Health in Houston. “I’m completely frustrated that we’re spending so much time and energy on this when we could be spending that time providing care for our patients and planning how we’re going to continue providing services.”

Community health centers, also known as federally licensed health centers, provide services such as medical, dental, vision and behavioral care and access to pharmacies. The centers serve low-income and uninsured patients, and they often exist in communities that lack doctors, dentists and mental health professionals. There are over 70 health centers throughout the state.

Supporters say they hope Congress will approve an ongoing resolution this week that includes renewing funds for community health centers.

Caldwell said she has doomsday scenarios if her centers run out of federal money next month. The clinic network serves approximately 110,000 patients in Houston and Beaumont. Right now, Caldwell says, they can still do the payroll, but if funding isn’t reauthorized soon, she’ll have to move forward with plans to close clinics, furlough staff and reduce costs. services.

Caldwell pointed out that fluctuating funding for community health centers is especially stressful amid a deadly flu outbreak.

“They’re all going to end up in the ER if we lose our funding,” Caldwell said.

Mimi Garcia, director of policy and external communications for the Texas Association of Community Health Centers, said clinics have never seen their funding expire, let alone take this long to secure. She pointed out that federal money is a reliable source of revenue for health centers, making it easier for them to apply for bank loans. Without it, banks might be more reluctant to lend to centers looking to pay for new equipment and repairs.

“That doesn’t mean I don’t like CHIP,” Garcia said. “I’m so happy that 9 million children have health care, but where are they supposed to go if they don’t have a community health clinic? Why aren’t people speaking out against the 27 million Americans who are losing their health centers? »

At Eagle Pass, William Worrell, CEO of United Medical Centers, is fighting the possibility of layoffs any way he can. He halted renovation projects, implemented a hiring freeze, reduced overtime and told staff to only order medical supplies when needed. Worrell said he’s worried about what will happen to patients. The center serves more than 29,000 people.

“Without seeing a doctor, they may go without care, they may drop their diabetes, they may not have someone following them,” Worrell said. “Again, all of this brings them back to the ER and possibly in worse condition than before.”

Disclosure: Legacy Health and the Texas Association of Community Health Centers financially supported The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization news organization funded in part by donations from its members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the journalism of the Tribune. Find a full list here.

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