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WA Health Centers Push Congress for Stable Funding

In 2017, community health centers served more than a million people in Washington state. (lifewjess/Twenty20)
In 2017, community health centers served more than a million people in Washington state. (lifewjess/Twenty20)
March 27, 2019

YAKIMA, Wash. - Thousands of medical professionals and health-care advocates from across the country are in the nation's capital this week, urging Congress to ensure stable funding for community health centers. These clinics provide affordable care to about one in 12 Americans, work in underserved areas and often are the only places available for preventive and primary care.

Yakima Neighborhood Health Services serves more than 23,000 patients a year in rural central Washington. Anita Monoian, its president and chief executive, said many people would go to emergency rooms or without care at all if their clinics didn't exist. Without reliable funding, she said, it's hard to operate.

"If I'm recruiting in this very sparse population of primary-care providers, if the money's not going to be there in two years, why wouldn't they go someplace else? So, it's really important that we get this extended," she said.

Funding is allocated in two-year periods and Monoian said that makes it hard to start projects. In 2017, community health centers lost funding for several months. They face another funding cliff at the end of September.

Two bills, S. 106 and S. 192, have been introduced in the U.S. Senate to extend federal funding for community health centers for five years.

James Luisi, board chairman for the National Association of Community Health Centers, said health centers serve people with very little access to care, regardless of whether they have insurance or not. From rural to inner-city areas, he described them as a line of defense against major societal problems.

"Without us, people wouldn't have access to care, and that would represent a public-health crisis," he said. "We take care of people with opioid addictions, chronic diseases. We are the last resort for many people for health care."

Twenty-seven community health centers operate more than 300 clinics across the Evergreen State and served more than a million patients in 2017, according to the Washington Association for Community Health.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA