- HHS is giving $100 million to community health centers across the country as the agency prepares for a surge in COVID-19 patients. The federally-funded clinics serve vulnerable populations, including those who are low-income, uninsured or homeless.
- Some 1,381 health centers will get the money, with individual clinics receiving funds ranging from $50,000 to $320,000 each, according to agency officials.
- Expanding COVID-19 testing, obtaining more personal protective equipment and ramping up telehealth capabilities are needed to meet demand while stemming the spread of the virus, officials and advocacy groups said.
The money comes from a bill President Donald Trump signed into law earlier this month — the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act — shoring up $8.3 billion in emergency funds for federal agencies to use during the pandemic.
It frees up $3.1 billion for HHS to deploy until 2024 — $100 million of which is now going to community health centers.
Advocacy groups for community health centers welcomed the desperately needed funding, but said it's not nearly enough. Health centers have been operating for months under a temporary extension of their mandatory funding, which runs out May 22.
"Keep in mind this money has not reached health centers yet and they have already been responding to COVID-19 for the past few weeks," Amy Simmons, Director of Communications at the National Association of Community Health Centers, said in a statement.
"Health centers are already working under dire conditions, converting their facilities for urgent operations, coping with shortages of protective equipment (PPE), limited testing kits, and staff putting themselves at risk for exposure," she said
Inadequate funding has made it difficult for community health centers to recruit staff, plan services or expand facilities to meet an unprecedented demand, Simmons said.
NACHC is requesting an additional $3.2 billion from Congress to sustain health center operations during the pandemic, and for a stable, long-term reauthorization of health centers and essential workforce programs, such as the National Health Service Corps and Teaching Health Centers Graduate Medical Education Program.
The centers, funded by the Health Resources and Services Administration, provide primary care to underserved and uninsured populations. HHS said community health centers care for 28 million people across the country — roughly one in 12 people nationwide.
In 2018, 27.5 million Americans did not have health insurance, according to census data.
HHS wants to make the funds available immediately, as case numbers in the U.S. grow, fueling a sense of urgency so the nation can prepare for the worst. As of Tuesday morning, nearly 54,000 cases of COVID-19 had been confirmed in the U.S., but that number is expected to grow quickly as testing becomes more available.