Feds direct $100M to community health centers for pandemic response

The country’s federally-funded community health centers, which serve some of its most vulnerable populations, will receive $100 million in federal funding to boost their role in responding to the coronavirus pandemic.

The close to 1,400 health centers, which serve some 28.4 million people, will use the funds to test and treat patients for coronavirus, acquire medical supplies and increase telehealth capacity, Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) officials said today.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced the money would be provided immediately to the community health centers from the $8.3 billion in emergency funding from Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2020 approved earlier this month by Congress.

The community health centers, which operate 13,000 sites nationwide, provide care to some of the county’s most vulnerable, including low-income people, homeless, the uninsured, residents of public housing and veterans, said Tom Engels, HRSA administrator during a press briefing.

The $100 million will help those community health centers respond to the coronavirus outbreak, he said.

Centers will receive anywhere from $32,000 to $50,000, depending on the number of patients they serve and the number of uninsured, said Jim Macrae, associate administrator for the Bureau for Primary Health Care.

Each center will determine where the money can best be spent depending on their needs, he said.

The funds will go toward supporting screening and testing for coronavirus, purchasing supplies, adding staff where needed and expanding telehealth and telephone services, he said.

Asked about health centers’ most dire needs in the coronavirus battle, Macrae said that depends on the community and how widespread the virus has become. For some, it is testing. For others, it's expanding telehealth capacity or supplies, he said.

Healthcare workers across the country have worried about dwindling supplies of protective equipment, including masks, gloves and gowns.

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Community health centers have an important role to play in the fight against the spread of coronavirus providing services to some of the most vulnerable patients, said Engels.

“We want our health centers to play a critical role,” said Macrae, including keeping patients with mild or moderate symptoms, who can be treated at its centers, out of hospital emergency rooms.

Macrae said the $100 million in funding is “a great first start.”

HRSA is also working with Congress to ensure the community health centers receive full funding to remain in operation, he said. The centers have received partial funding, but are also seeking the reauthorization of full funding to keep centers open beyond May 22, when that money is slated to run out, he said.