For Immediate Release: October 12, 2021
Media Contact: Kathy Fackelmann, firstname.lastname@example.org, 202-994-8354
Community Health Center Data from 2020 Reveals the Toll of the Pandemic
WASHINGTON, DC and NEW YORK, NY (Oct. 12, 2021) – A new analysis from the Geiger Gibson/RCHN Community Health Foundation Research Collaborative provides an overview of the toll on community health centers in 2020, the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. The Geiger Gibson/RCHN Community Health Foundation Research Collaborative is based at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health.
The report, issued as part of the Collaborative’s signature policy brief series, analyzes recently-released 2020 data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Uniform Data System, an annual reporting system that offers in-depth information about community health centers. The report compares 2020 to earlier years, and finds that the pandemic brought about dramatic changes in community health centers’ services, operations and patients in 2020.
Community health centers were essential responders to the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, they tested more than 3.7 million patients for the novel coronavirus and cared for nearly 745,000 patients with COVID-19. They rapidly adapted to provide virtual care, with the share of health centers offering telemedicine services jumping from fewer than half in 2019 to nearly all in 2020. Virtual visits accounted for a quarter of all visits in 2020, compared to 0.4% in 2019. The deep and rapid COVID-19 response and shift to virtual care were enabled by supplemental COVID-19 grant funding, enhanced Medicaid financing, and greater reimbursement flexibility for telehealth services.
“Despite unprecedented pandemic conditions, community health centers rallied to provide COVID-19 testing and treatment and adapted to support the needs of their communities,” said Feygele Jacobs, DrPH, President and CEO of the RCHN Community Health Foundation, whose ongoing gift supports the Geiger Gibson Program. “The data suggest that full recovery will take more time and additional resources.”
The data also demonstrate the impact on health centers and their patients. The number of health center patients dropped by more than 1.2 million from 2019 to 2020, with a 14% decline in child and adolescent patients over that time period. Despite the rapid expansion of telehealth, total visits fell by 8.6 million (seven percent) from 2019 and 2020. These declines translated into a drop in the number of patients receiving preventive care and diagnostic tests during 2020.
A year and a half into the pandemic, community health centers continue to face substantial challenges. Though not yet back to pre-pandemic operating conditions, health centers are faced with scaling up routine services while continuing to provide COVID-19 testing, vaccines, and booster shots, and are likely facing increased demand as patients return for delayed care. Finally, with continuous Medicaid enrollment available during the pandemic slated to end at the conclusion of the public health emergency, community health centers will need to assist patients with the redetermination and renewal process, adding another major challenge.
“The findings in this brief underscore both how effective health centers have been in addressing the pandemic in their communities and what a difficult road back to normal operations health centers face,” said Sara Rosenbaum, JD, one of the study authors and the Harold and Jane Hirsh Professor of Health Law and Policy at the GW Milken Institute School of Public Health.
The analysis, “The Toll Taken on Poor Communities: Community Health Centers in the First Year of the COVID-19 Pandemic” can be accessed here.
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.