For community health centers, a catastrophe in the making

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The call came late last Tuesday. U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro’s district director called to ask whether I could attend this week’s State of the Union Address as the congresswoman’s sole guest. I’ve long been a political junky, mesmerized by the power wielded by the 535 members of Congress and for the most part, proud of their uniquely American accomplishments.

As the daughter of an immigrant who raised his two daughters to believe that this is the greatest country in the world, I have always been proud of what our country stands for. That’s why when the call came asking if I would attend this week’s State of the Union Address, I felt an odd mix of excitement and sadness. Excitement to be a part of an American tradition taking place in the history-ladened halls of our national Capitol; sadness because I knew why I was being singled out for this honor and opportunity.

I am the CEO of Fair Haven Community Health Care, a community health center in New Haven, which provides care to over 18,000 low-income residents of our community. Community health centers in the U.S. are currently under siege, due to the chaotic bipartisan bickering that has come to be the hallmark of my beloved government. Congresswoman DeLauro’s choice for her guest is one way she can shine a spotlight on the plight of Community Health Centers.

Nationwide, community health centers care for over 27 million people annually. That’s one in 10 children, one in 13 adults. In Connecticut, the statistics are even more staggering with over 375,000 residents receiving their care from a health center in 2017. Unless Congress acts soon, Connecticut stands to lose over $40 million in revenue for the 16 health centers scattered throughout the state.

The estimated impact on the country is staggering. According to the National Association of Community Health Centers, loss of this funding will result in 9 million patients losing access to primary and preventive care, over 51,000 staff members (including physicians and nurses) will lose their jobs and over 25 percent of health center sites in the country will be forced to close their doors.

For Connecticut, the estimate is that 90,000 patients will lose access to care, 530 individuals will lose their jobs and the overall economic impact statewide in terms of lost downstream revenues is over $91 million. Additionally, the impact on hospitals will be massive as patients will once again turn to emergency rooms for help when access to health centers is severely curtailed.

At Fair Haven Community Health Care, we are at risk of losing $2.9 million in annual funding, 14 percent of our annual budget. Cornell Scott Hill Health Center, another New Haven health center, is at risk of losing $4.2 million annually. The math is simple—a loss of over $7 million to New Haven to support the care of average to low income residents will be catastrophic.

In Connecticut, we have already had to sustain the impact of a drastically reduced state budget with significant cuts to the Connecticut Medicaid program, school based health centers and dental services. The addition of huge federal cuts is unnerving. We have been living with this uncertainty since last September. For over six months, our ability to make decisions regarding programs and growth has been paralyzed by the uncertainty of whether we will have the funds to survive, let alone expand.

So, I will go to Washington on Tuesday. I will sit in the hallowed halls of the Capitol as history unfolds before my eyes. But I won’t be excited. I will be sad as I contemplate whether the men and women sitting below me in the same chamber will do what is right by my 18,000 patients and by the 27 million patients seeking care from health centers throughout the country.

I will hope that I can connect with one or two legislators and try to convince them of the critical importance of moving this legislation to a vote. And I will think of my immigrant father and hope that his belief in a compassionate and just America will be sustained.

Suzanne Lagarde is Chief Executive Officer of Fair Haven Community Health Care in New Haven.


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