Community health providers are bracing for the worst after Congress missed a critical funding deadline last month by failing to reauthorize the Community Health Centers Fund, which expired on Sept. 30.
“This is our core grant program,” said Lindsay Farrell, president and CEO of Open Door Family Medical Centers, which operates cost-effective health care practices in Westchester and Putnam counties.
The grant accounts for about 70 percent of the $6 million in federal funding that Open Door receives.
“I’m not quite sure what’s going to happen if this legislation isn’t reauthorized,” said Farrell, who last month traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with congressional officials and advocate for the funding.
The good news, Farrell said, is the funding extension has received bipartisan support. A bill that would extend the funding for five years is currently in the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, and co-sponsors include U.S. Reps. Sean Patrick Maloney and Nita Lowey.
“Community health centers are instrumental in providing health care to New Yorkers throughout the Lower Hudson Valley,” Lowey said. “If funding were to lapse, it would devastate the ability of community health centers to serve the people who depend on them for health care.”
Open Door, which operates facilities in Ossining, Port Chester, Sleepy Hollow, Mount Kisco, Brewster and Mamaroneck, estimates that as many as 5,000 of its patients in Westchester County could lose access to care should funding not be renewed.
Similarly, HRHCare, a health center with 28 facilities in Hudson Valley and Long Island, stands to lose $14.5 million should the funding fail to be reauthorized. The nonprofit could also face the potential closing of certain sites, officials said in a statement.
Nationally, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that the funding cutoff will lead to the closing of as many as 2,800 health center locations and a loss of access to care for nearly 9 million patients.
“It’s just not highly functional in D.C. The problem is figuring out how it all gets paid for,” Farrell said. “For a long time, we were telling (Congress) that this needed to get done, and it hasn’t. Why should I believe it is going to be done now?”
Just weeks after the funding deadline was missed, the effects are already reaching community health centers like Open Door.
“I have a hiring freeze. There are contracts I’m not going to enter into with this kind of uncertainty,” she said. “Without (this funding), I’m going to have to not hire and I hate to say layoffs, but we would have to restrict services. We see patients six days a week, morning to night and without this money, we might not be able to.”