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Funding Cliff For Community Health Centers Puts Staffing, Patients At Risk

Courtesy: COHC
Charter Oak Health Center in Hartford

Federal funding for community health centers is nearing expiration this year. And both health professionals and politicians warn that if funding isn’t extended, it could impact Connecticut centers and patients. 

Laying off employees of Charter Oak Health Center in Hartford isn’t something CEO Nichelle Mullins wants to do just before the holidays. But if federal funding for the center in Hartford stops coming, she said she may have to.

“If I am looking at potentially laying off between 40 to 50 people, I have to think about how many patients that will impact, because there’s still the need for the community and we won’t be able to meet that need anymore,” Mullins said during a news conference Friday.

Charter Oak is one of more than a dozen federally funded community health centers in Connecticut that serve about 390,000 patients. Centers offer primary and specialty health care, regardless of insurance status. They often treat some of the most vulnerable populations. 

But the federal funds that support these kinds of centers nationwide are set to expire if Congress doesn’t appropriate more money for the programs by Nov. 21. Mullins said funding at Charter Oak will run out by Dec. 31.

Sen. Chris Murphy said that will leave people with fewer health care options. But convincing his colleagues hasn’t been easy.

“I hate to say it, but it’s a fight,” he told reporters. “We have a lot of Republican colleagues that don’t want to reauthorize funding for community health centers. We have a president who does not want to put money into community health centers.”

In an Oct. 23 letter addressed to leaders of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, a group of federal lawmakers expressed support for a five-year extension of funding to help community health centers continue to offer health and social services as well as employ more than 220,00 workers across the country.

“They have also been on the front lines of the opioid epidemic, providing substance use disorder and mental health treatment to patients in need,” the legislators wrote.

The group of Democrats, including Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Reps. Rosa DeLauro and Jahana Hayes, also urged Congress to approve gradual funding increases in future years to afford community health centers more stability.

Blumenthal and Murphy said Friday that they think a deal eventually will be made to extend the funding, but it will likely happen close to the deadline.

Nicole Leonard joined Connecticut Public Radio to cover health care after several years of reporting for newspapers. In her native state of New Jersey, she covered medical and behavioral health care, as well as arts and culture, for The Press of Atlantic City. Her work on stories about domestic violence and childhood food insecurity won awards from the New Jersey Press Association.

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