The novel coronavirus could “create long-lasting, devastating damage” to Illinois health care facilities that serve vulnerable communities.
Community health centers are treating fewer patients than normal after all 390 locations around the state canceled routine and preventative medical visits to slow the spread of COVID-19 per guidance from federal and state officials.
That means fewer government reimbursements for facilities that use them to pay staff salaries and purchase supplies. According to a report from Capital Link, community health centers in Illinois are projected to lose almost $140 million in revenue over the next three months, or 70 percent of the business typically generated.
This segment of the state’s health care safety net is already underfunded by about $150 million annually, according to Jordan Powell, president of Illinois Primary Health Care Association.
“This could have a long-lasting impact on the health center delivery system,” he said. “Because we’re already underfunded, it only exacerbates the short-term problem we’re facing right now.”
Illinois’ entire congressional delegation signed a letter to Gov. JB Pritzker urging the state to allocate temporary funding to alleviate these centers’ potential need to lay off staff or permanently shutter facilities.
“It would be unthinkable for a community health center to be forced to close due to a lack of adequate resources,” the representatives wrote. “... While we understand that Illinois will have to make tough choices in the days, weeks and months ahead, adequate funding provided directly to our community health centers now will ensure we are ready to overcome these challenges.
There is no funding amount cited in the letter, but it specifies it “should be adequate for sustaining the provision of core health services in addition to responding to the coronavirus pandemic, and they must be flexible enough to meet the varying needs of our health centers serving Illinois’ unique and diverse communities under conditions which are rapidly evolving.”
Community health centers are present in each of the state’s congressional districts and nearly all state legislative districts, which Powell said attributes to the bipartisan congressional support for funding.
In his daily novel coronavirus briefing March 23, Pritzker was asked what state resources are available to the facilities, which typically treat 1.4 million patients and create 18,500 jobs.
He did not answer the question directly, instead saying, “We want to make sure that those health centers are able to remain open as soon as possible.” Pritzker added his administration is collaborating with federal officials to ensure funding is included in a national stimulus bill.
Powell said he and his team have had “extremely positive” near-daily conversations with the governor’s staff and representatives from relevant state agencies, and all parties involved “understand the issues we’re facing.”
“They have a limited amount of resources and there are so many needs out there. It’s a difficult problem for them to prioritize those needs,” Powell said. “We’re asking them to help us stay open, and time is of the essence right now.”
It would cost Illinois’ government less money to provide this emergency funding now, he said, than have to deal with the repercussions of facility closures later. Annually, community health centers save taxpayers $2 billion, Powell added.
Community health centers are designed to treat anyone, regardless of their ability to pay. Facilities not only treat medical issues, but substance abuse, dental, vision and behavioral concerns as well as provide prescription medications at a reduced or no cost.
The clinics could alleviate pressure on hospitals and emergency rooms as they struggle to treat those with COVID-19, Powell added, if the facilities had enough personal protective equipment for staff. That includes gloves, gowns and face masks.
“We even suggested that our centers could be used as testing centers statewide,” he said.