For Immediate Release: August 3, 2020
As COVID-19 Surges, Community Health Centers Face Serious Financial Instability
WASHINGTON, DC and NEW YORK, NY (August 3, 2020) – Community health centers nationwide are facing critical revenue losses that could significantly affect their ability to sustain operations, concludes a new analysis produced by researchers at the Geiger Gibson/RCHN Community Health Foundation Research Collaborative at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health (Milken Institute SPH).
The analysis examined survey data from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) on community health centers’ response to, and impact from, the COVID-19 pandemic. This information shows both a surging demand for COVID-19-related care and a major decline in use of other health care services. As of mid-July, about one in 10 community health center sites nationwide were closed, 6 percent of health center staff members could not work, and weekly patient visits were 22 percent lower than before the pandemic. The researchers estimate that between April 3 and July 17, community health centers nationwide experienced losses in patient revenue, including that from Medicaid, of nearly $2.2 billion. The analysis also found that the five alternative funding sources provided by Congress to date are either about to expire or fall far short of what health centers need to both recover and remain stable.
“Community health centers are a crucial resource for primary health care for medically underserved communities and are more important now during the pandemic than ever before,” said Sara Rosenbaum, JD, the Harold and Jane Hirsh Professor of Health Law and Policy at Milken Institute SPH and a co-author of the study. “Medicaid is crucial to health centers’ survival, and a loss of this magnitude over three months alone is simply not sustainable.”
The other sources of funding available to mitigate these losses include the Paycheck Protection Program, targeted health center COVID-19 funding, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Provider Relief Fund, the HRSA Uninsured Provider Claims Fund, and general health center funding under Section 330 of the Public Health Service (PHS) Act.
The COVID targeted funding is very limited, and the HHS Provider Relief Fund and HRSA Uninsured Claims Fund appear to provide minimum support, the researchers say. For example, the El Centro de Corazon health center, which serves mostly uninsured patients in Houston, Texas, one of the country’s COVID-19 epicenters, received only $1,497 in assistance from the HHS Provider Relief Fund and $2,057 from the HRSA Uninsured Claims Fund. Information about these two funds is highly incomplete, the analysis notes, but it is evident that these funds are designed to flow primarily to hospitals. The Paycheck Protection Program excludes the nation’s largest health centers. The Community Health Center Fund, part of the Section 330 funding, accounts for more than 70 percent of total health center appropriations, and is set to run out by the end of November.
“Mounting an effective response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and securing health care in the nation’s poorest communities, will require sustained support and funding,” said Feygele Jacobs, DrPH, president and CEO of the RCHN Community Health Foundation. “There could be dire consequences if steps are not taken to ensure the short- and long-term financial security of community health centers.”
The analysis, “As COVID-19 Surges, Community Health Centers Face Near-Term and Long-Term Funding Instability” was published August 3 by the Geiger Gibson/RCHN Community Health Foundation Research Collaborative.
The Geiger Gibson Program in Community Health Policy, established in 2003 and named after human rights and health center pioneers Drs. H. Jack Geiger and Count Gibson, is part of the Milken Institute School of Public Health at The George Washington University.
The RCHN Community Health Foundation is the only foundation in the U.S. dedicated solely to community health centers. The Foundation’s gift to the Geiger Gibson program supports health center research and scholarship.
The Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University is the only school of public health in the nation’s capital.