Thousands of community health-center advocates, doctors, nurses, professionals and patients are headed to the nation's capital this week to urge their representatives to ensure long-term, stable funding.
Doreen Rue, chief executive of the nonprofit Health Services of North Texas, said bipartisan Congressional investments in past years have helped centers serve 28 million patients, including agricultural workers, low-income families and people experiencing homelessness.
"To have a five-year plan provides that stability that the staff need to stay with the organization, and stay with the mission and continue to grow and develop their own career paths while impacting the community in a positive way," she said.
In October 2017, Congress allowed the Community Health Center Fund to expire, which accounts for about 70 percent of the federal grants the centers rely on. In February 2018, Congress reauthorized the funds, but Rue said the delay and uncertainty created staff recruitment and retention problems, and stalled investments in additional services and facility upgrades.
Rue called the nation's community health centers "an American success story." She said centers play a critical role in keeping health costs down by providing preventive care, and are on the front lines of the opioid epidemic, natural disasters and public-health outbreaks. Rue said centers also keep local economies healthy by providing good-paying professional jobs and purchasing goods and services.
"The health centers are a business and an economic driver, not just a place to come for care," she said. "It is integrated truly in the community and is an important employer, as well as asset to the community."
According to the National Association of Community Health Centers, centers add more than $54 billion in total economic activity each year and employ more than 220,000 people nationally. Every federal dollar invested in health centers generates $5.73 in economic activity. Federal funding for health centers is set to expire again on Sept. 30 unless Congress acts.