ST. LOUIS – Federal money has supported community health centers for decades. Every couple of years, the funds are reauthorized.
Dr. Melissa Tepe, Chief Medical Officer for Affinia Healthcare, said reauthorization usually isn't a problem, but in this cycle, it is.
Tepe said, in response to financial uncertainty at both state and federal levels, Affinia Healthcare has made cuts to its services and staff.
The center serves around 43,000 people in the metro per year, with 90 percent of patients living in poverty. It offers a sliding fee scale to uninsured patients that is based on household income.
Patient Rosalind Williamson is a cancer survivor. She says she appreciates the discount.
"It's been a blessing," Williamson said. "Had it not been for this clinic here, I would have not known the illnesses that I have because the doctor that was here, he sent me to everybody," she said.
Fewer people work for the center now. Affinia Healthcare recently cut five positions. By next month, a few more could be cut.
"Which is heartbreaking for us," Tepe said.
In addition to the job cuts, some services are scaled back.
"We continue to have radiology at our Lemp location," Tepe said. "We no longer have radiology at our Biddle location."
While urgent care remains available, primary care is limited. It's no longer available on Saturdays.
Tepe says federal funding was supposed to be reauthorized by September 30, 2017, but Congress still hasn't approved it.
"We deserve reauthorization of our federal funding," she said.
On top of that, Affinia Healthcare receives Medicaid reimbursements from the state. However, Tepe expects that funding to be cut and says it's unclear how much.
"The uncertainty of federal and state funding will affect all of our programming," she said.
Here's the encouraging news. Both the U.S. House and Senate have approved separate plans that would fund community health centers for the next two years. However, those proposals have yet to be finalized and a decision needs to be reached by Thursday at midnight.
Sen. Claire McCaskill's Office sent the following statement in response to the budget deal that includes funding for community health centers:
I'm eager to see text and review the details of this agreement, but it's a positive step away from the kind of brinksmanship and stop-gap funding measures that have undermined Missourians' confidence in their government. What's even more positive is that this deal includes the kinds of resources I've fought to bring to Missouri—resources that'll literally save lives, strengthen our military, and boost jobs in communities across our state.
On Thursday, Sen. Blunt and Sen. Stabenow announced funding for Community Health Centers
“More than half a million Missourians, many of whom are uninsured or on Medicaid, rely on community health centers for quality, affordable health care,” said Blunt. “This two-year funding extension, which includes a $600 million increase, will provide community health centers the certainty they need to plan for the future and give families peace of mind that they’ll have access to care.”
“After a long fight, we finally have great news for families in Michigan and across the country who rely on community health centers for the health care they need,” said Stabenow. “This is a big relief for our families, veterans, and children who won’t have to wonder anymore if they’ll be able to see a doctor.”“Community Health Centers and the 27 million people who depend on them for care are deeply appreciative of the outstanding leadership shown by U.S. Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Roy Blunt (R-MO),” said Dan Hawkins, Senior Vice President for Policy and Research at NACHC. “Both Senators have stood with health centers for many years now, and from the beginning of this current funding cliff crisis they have done everything possible to ensure that health center staff and patients would not be forced to endure another day of uncertainty. Their hard work and vigilance have made an enormous difference in the lives of so many.”
5 On Your Side reached out to Governor Eric Greitens' Office for comment Wednesday but did not hear back.