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AR Rural Health Centers Seek Stable Funding from Congress

Pediatrician Dr. Crystal Little examines an inquisitive patient at one of Mainline Health Systems' 17 centers in southeast Arkansas. (MainlineHealth)
Pediatrician Dr. Crystal Little examines an inquisitive patient at one of Mainline Health Systems' 17 centers in southeast Arkansas. (MainlineHealth)

November 21, 2019

DERMOTT, Ark. – This is National Rural Health Day, and rural health centers in Arkansas and across the country are requesting that Congress stabilize the funding for their programs.

Rural health providers say lawmakers have funded rural centers on a month-to-month basis through a continuing resolution for several months.

Federal money accounts for a substantial portion of the budgets of rural health centers, and they say long-term funding is needed to smoothly run their operations.

Allan Nichols, CEO of Mainline Health Systems in southeast Arkansas, says all of his group's 17 clinics provide care for mostly poor and often uninsured patients.

"You put your organization at a lot of risk if they don't come through,” he states. “And that makes it really hard to extend yourself and try to meet the unmet needs that continue to grow in these rural communities."

This is the last day of the current continuing resolution, and if Congress doesn't act, funding could be suspended or cut off.

According to the National Association of Community Health Centers, community health centers serve one in five rural residents across the U.S.

Nichols says without consistent sources of funding, it can become particularly difficult to serve the needs of a rural population.

"You're scared to step out on a limb and hire those people because when you hire them, if the funding goes away you can let them go,” he explains. “But they have families, they're leaving jobs to come to your job. You got to be pretty sure before you commit to these people. "

Nichols says his clinics have to work smarter to serve the growing rural population in Arkansas, using technologies such as Telehealth, which extends the reach of doctors and nurses further into rural communities.

"There is no answer for health care that community health centers aren't a core part of the solution,” Nichols states. “There is none, because we're delivering care what others have left. And if these people deserve care and if they're going to get it, then we've got to deliver it."

National Rural Health Day is endorsed by the Community Health Centers of Arkansas and its national organization to highlight the challenges faced by rural community health centers.

Disclosure: National Association of Community Health Centers contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy & Priorities, Health Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Mark Richardson, Public News Service - AR