Without quick funding from Congress, community health centers in danger of closures, layoffs

The clock is ticking for the country’s community health centers, which provide care in poor and underserved communities. Unless Congress acts to renew funding before the end of the year, many of the 9,800 community health centers across the U.S. will have to cut back services or possibly close, according to The Pew Charitable Trusts.

The clinics serve 27 million people. Without the federal funding, as many as 2,800 centers could close next year, leaving as many as 9 million patients without access to regular primary care, according to Pew's Stateline publication.

The funding crisis is also complicated by Congress’ failure to reauthorize money for two related programs—the National Health Service Corps, which provides scholarships and loan repayment funds for providers who agree to practice in underserved areas, and Teaching Health Centers, which trains residents to work as primary care physicians in those areas.

“We’ve got a triple threat happening to community health centers,” Mitzi Moran, CEO of Sunrise Community Health in northern Colorado, told the publication.

In addition to leaving patients without regular healthcare, the fallout from the failure to fund these community health centers could mean the loss of more than 160,000 jobs and a hit to state economies of more than $15 billion from staff cutbacks and layoffs, Stateline reported.

The health centers are not expected to run out of federal money until next month, but some have already frozen hiring, lost doctors and other providers they recruited or suspended improvement projects.

In the past, the health programs have enjoyed strong bipartisan support and funding but there’s been no action so far as Congress has focused on the Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act and a tax bill it hopes to pass before the Christmas break.

“I am so frustrated that there just doesn’t seem to be any urgency about this in Washington,” Steven Miracle, CEO of Georgia Mountains Health Services, told Stateline.

The small network of community medical and dental clinics has lost one doctor already and its board has frozen hiring, Miracle said. Without action from Congress, Georgia Mountains will begin discussing layoffs and site closures in January, he said.