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Loss of Funding Could Close Michigan Community Health Centers

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PHOTO: Services at community health centers have been expanding in Michigan and nationwide, thanks in part to the Affordable Care Act. But unless Congress acts to continue funding that allowed them to grow, their future is up in the air. Photo credit: Clarita / Morguefile.
PHOTO: Services at community health centers have been expanding in Michigan and nationwide, thanks in part to the Affordable Care Act. But unless Congress acts to continue funding that allowed them to grow, their future is up in the air. Photo credit: Clarita / Morguefile.
July 22, 2014

LANSING, Mich. - Nationally and statewide, community health centers are peering over the edge of a funding cliff, despite more than 700,000 Michiganders annually using their services.

Community health centers are typically local clinics that treat patients regardless of their insurance status or ability to pay, and many have been expanding their facilities to meet the additional demands of the Affordable Care Act.

But according to Kim Sibilsky, CEO of the Michigan Primary Care Association, the federal grants which have allowed community health centers to grow are set to expire next year.

"Once you've geared up and expanded the system, if there isn't regular infusion of dollars, the system will roll back," says Sibilsky. "We're really talking about basic, annual funding."

There are 38 community health center organizations in Michigan which provide services at 260 sites located in rural and medically underserved areas across the state. Sibilsky says unless Congress steps in to continue the funding, some of those locations will either have to close or eliminate services.

She adds many of those services go beyond the physical, as community health centers were designed to address barriers people face when trying to take care of themselves and their families.

"They provide quality care," Sibilski says. "They are comprehensive primary care centers where you can get dental and mental health, substance use services, education, translation, transportation."

Dr. Gary Wiltz, board chairman of the National Association of Community Health Centers, says a loss in funding would affect not only clinic operations, but related programs to recruit and train young doctors for careers in small towns.

"We're employing 250,000 people nationwide," says Wiltz. "By nature, we're located particularly in rural areas."

Nationally, the centers say loss of funding would mean care for seven million fewer patients by 2020.

Mona Shand, Public News Service - MI