Community health clinics to receive $ 1 billion from Biden administration
The US Department of Health and Human Services is allocating nearly $ 1 billion to community health centers across the country, the Biden administration said on Tuesday.
The funds are to support construction and renovation projects to expand facilities, as well as mobile medical units, telehealth technology, freezers for vaccine storage and other capital needs related to COVID-19, according to the agency.
About 1,300 health centers across the country that provide care to medically underserved communities will receive the money, which will come from funding for the US bailout, the administration said.
Disparately affected throughout the pandemic, people of color, as well as low-income communities, make up the majority of community health center patients. Most are also not disproportionately insured or are insured by government programs.
Patients at community health centers often suffer from chronic illnesses at higher rates, according to a report by the National Association of Community Health Centers, putting them at risk of complications from COVID-19. Patients 65 and older are the fastest growing age group among health center patients, the association said.
HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra called community health centers a “lifeline” for vulnerable people.
“We are modernizing facilities across the country to better respond to the most pressing public health challenges associated with COVID-19,” he said in a press release.
A Capital Link analysis found that federally licensed health centers will need an additional $ 17 billion in real estate and equipment investments over the next five years to meet the projected needs of about 38 million patients.
A recent survey of the group showed that the major planned capital projects were related to medical, mental health and dental services. Short-term capital requirements ranged from new equipment, expanding or renovating a facility, to purchasing a new site.
About 25% of the more than 300 health centers surveyed said their projects would cost around $ 5 million or more. But about three-quarters of health centers reported gaps in funding for planned improvements, according to a 2020 NACHC report citing a 2015 analysis.
Dr Basim Khan, physician and executive director of Neighborhood Health, a network of 11 community clinics across Virginia, said they needed dental infrastructure and new examination rooms to meet a base rapidly growing patients.
During the pandemic, Neighborhood Health’s patient count increased to 40,000. In 2019, clinics served 29,000 patients. People lost their jobs and insurance, driving them to clinics for treatment, Khan said.
“The amount of needs is way above the capacity,” he said. “Space is one of the obstacles we have to overcome in order to increase our capacity.”
In addition to the new examination rooms, the centers will need supplies and plumbing to equip the rooms.
An internist and the centers ‘former medical director, Khan said more than half of the centers’ patients are uninsured. About half are Hispanic and a fifth are black. The centers also serve large numbers of immigrants and often offer pop-up services in low-income housing complexes or partner with churches to provide care to specific communities.
“Our big challenge is that even though we have grown considerably in recent years, the needs for our services continue to be high,” he said.
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