The year 2020 marked the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S., affecting every aspect of the health care delivery system. In thousands of medically underserved rural and urban communities, community health centers played a vital role in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. Using data from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) Uniform Data System (UDS).we report finings for the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. in 2020, and compare it to 2019 and trend data from earlier years, to analyze how the pandemic has affected health centers, the services they provide, and the patients they serve.
Despite unprecedented conditions, community health centers succeeded in testing millions for COVID-19 and treating three-quarters of a million patients diagnosed with COVID-19 illness, while adapting operations and services. Yet from 2019 to 2020, the total number of patients served fell by four percent and the number of children served declined to a much greater degree, by 14 percent. While the rapid expansion of virtual visits helped to offset a 30 percent decline in in-clinic visits, health center visits fell by seven percent overall, with visits declining across most service types. In 2021, health centers have not yet fully recovered, and substantial challenges remain.
Rebuilding health center capacity – crucial for communities facing high poverty, elevated health risks, and extensive health disparities and a shortage of primary health care – will take both additional direct grant funding as well as sustained Medicaid investment.