Community health centers have played a vital role during the COVID-19 pandemic, as the single largest source of comprehensive primary health care for medically underserved urban and rural communities. This Data Note reports on health center pandemic activities, using information from the Health Resources and Services Administration’s (HRSA) Health Center COVID-19 Survey spanning the April 2020 to April 2022 time period.
• Community health centers have tested more than 18.5 million patients for the COVID-19 virus, including more than 2.5 million patients who have tested positive.
• Telehealth quickly became essential to patient care and remains so. By April 2020, health centers were conducting over half (54 percent) of all patient visits virtually; although the rate has declined, virtual visits now account for approximately 1 in 6 (16 percent) visits nationally.
• Health center patients have received over 20 million COVID-19 vaccine doses. HRSA’s direct-supply Health Center COVID-19 Vaccine Program has supplied 42 percent of all doses provided —nearly 8.6 million doses. Racial/ethnic minority patients received nearly seven in ten (69%) of all vaccine doses and more than three in four federally-allocated vaccine doses.
• While COVID-19 vaccine supply does not appear to be an issue at this time, the share of health centers reporting vaccine confidence as a challenge to vaccine administration has doubled—from 17 percent in January 2021 to 33 percent as of April 2022.
• Beyond COVID-19 testing and vaccinations, more health centers now offer treatments for COVID-19 – a trend that, assuming available funding, is likely to grow given the growing supply of treatment medications.
• Through its COVID-19 Testing Supply and COVID-19 N95 Mask Programs, HRSA has enabled health centers to distribute N95 masks and COVID-19 at-home test kits and point-of-care testing supplies at no charge to their patients and community members. Federally-funded health centers have distributed nearly 5.4 million testing kits and over 3.6 million N95 masks, while “look-alike” health centers play a similar role in their communities.
While community health centers have consistently and quickly acted to expand their services to respond to the pandemic, they are facing challenges that threaten their ability to continue to do so. With the continuing threat of new COVID-19 variants and pandemic waves, health centers will remain essential front-line providers, but these looming challenges could affect future capacity and care in medically underserved communities.
The data note was produced by the Geiger Gibson/RCHN Community Health Foundation Research Collaborative.
Download the data note here: Two-Year Findings from HRSA’s Health Center COVID-19 Survey