Community health centers in desperate need of being re-funded

CARSON CITY—Mark Marlow is one of the many Carson City residents who relies on Sierra Nevada Health Center and said he doesn’t know what he would do without its services.

“To lose this, it would be like taking a small infection and saying ‘I am just going to deal with it until it becomes something large’ and then it becomes sky rocketing,” Marlow said. “Not being able to have the accessibility would be a lot.”

Sierra Nevada Health Center is one of Carson City’s two federally-qualified health care centers that were hoping for renewed funding at the beginning of this month, but are instead still waiting on Congress to extend the Community Health Centers Fund program that expired on Sept. 30, 2017.

Nevada’s six federally-qualified health care centers provide care to around 89,000 patients across the state. Sierra Nevada Health Center and Carson City School-based Health Center provide care to Carson City and Carson Valley residents and are hanging in a balance after the deadline to extend the funding passed.

Nevada’s health centers are among more than 1,300 community health centers across the U.S. that receive funding from the CHCF program. Today, Nevada’s health centers employ more than 60 medical professionals.

Carson City’s community health centers Sierra Nevada Health Center and Carson City School-based Health Center provide uninsured and underinsured patients with cost-effective primary and preventive care.

These centers receive 70 percent of their grant funding from the CHCF.

Steve Messinger, policy manager with Nevada Primary Care Association said the biggest risks are the inability to hire and retain the amount of doctors these centers currently have and the potential closure of rural health centers.

Messinger said the greatest cost to health centers are doctors. If a particular center had to go down to two or three doctors, it would greatly increase wait times and could potentially inhibit the center from serving the amount of patients they currently serve.

Marlow said one thing he appreciates about Sierra Nevada Health Center is the time his physician, Dr. Mohammad “Ali” Shahin, takes with him during each one of his visits.

Marlow said losing that one-on-one time would make patients less comfortable to talk to their physicians.

“Not having a doctor come in and spend time would be hard,” Marlow said. “Even a couple of minutes means the world. Having time to say what I have to say and the doctor to listen is important, even just having a three-minute meeting.”

Messinger said if funding doesn’t come soon, many centers in Nevada could feel the effects in the spring.

“We could feel the effect in April, but by then if we can’t get funding by April, we would feel it really hard,” Messinger said.

Rural Nevada centers would be hit the hardest, Messinger said. “I worry about the rural health centers. I don’t know what their finances look like, but if they lose their grant funding, it will be the rural places and people with a lack of options that lose their care first.”

Messinger said he has been to Washington, D.C., four times to discuss CHCF funding options and CEOs of the state’s health centers have been to the capital twice this year.

Earlier this month, Nevada Health Centers CEO and board chairs sent a letter to Nevada’s congressional delegation to encourage action on funding for community health centers.

In the letter, addressed to Republican Sen. Dean Heller, Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, Democratic Rep. Dina Titus, Republican Rep. Mark Amodei, Democratic Rep. Jacky Rosen and Democratic Rep. Ruben Kihuen, the CEO and board chairs asked for unity between political parties and a solution to health care funding.

“As you read these words, our nation’s network of more than 1,300 community health centers, located in all U.S. states, territories, and the District of Columbia, are facing very real consequences if renewed congressional commitment to funding isn’t quickly yet expediently addressed,” the letter says. “As the financial coffers run dry, services may be curtailed; hours and access may be limited; and, ultimately, the doors to many community health centers could permanently close.”

The letter encourages Nevada congressional members “to develop a long-term, fiscally responsible funding plan that ensures the success of our country’s greatest public health asset.”

There’s bipartisan support to continue the Community Health Center fund. Both Heller and Cortez Masto have signed onto a letter to urge “swift resolution” to the health center funding cliff.

Rosen and Kihuen signed onto a House letter to urge a 5-year reauthorization of community heath center funding.

Both letters expressed need for bipartisan support for funding the program for the next five years.

The Department of Health and Human Services has estimated without funding in 2018, approximately 2,800 health center locations in the U.S. could close. They estimate the closures could cost more than 50,000 jobs and endanger the care of 9 million patients.

Messinger and others are asking for a five-year extension of the CHCF, an extension that has bipartisan support from Heller and Cortez Masto.

“I really want the people in Congress to get credit,” Messinger said. “They have been supportive and they hope they can do something to get it passed.”

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