SPRINGFIELD -- Community health centers across Illinois have seen a significant drop in patients coming in the door due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. While the centers are temporarily halting preventative and routine medical visits to comply with federal and state orders to curb the spread of the COVID-19, they are facing a dire financial outlook. The state's 51 community health centers and 390 service centers aren't receiving reimbursement revenue needed to pay for their staff, supplies and operating expenses.
"For many, this is their trusted resource in the community," said Amber Kirchhoff, State Public Policy and Governmental Affairs Director for the Illinois Primary Health Care Association. "If the system were not able to sustain its operations, it would be devastating."
A new report from Capital Link shows Illinois health centers could lose as much as 70% of their revenue over the next three months (nearly $140 million). The Illinois Primary Health Care Association says 37% of the centers are already on the brink of closing, with less than 30 days worth of funding. The group also explained that another 30% of their locations will exhaust all of their reserves leading to forced site closures and reduced services.
"We've been advocating for the last couple of weeks because we don't want to get to that dire of a situation because we know how much we are needed in the community right now," Kirchhoff added.
"A viable part of our health care community"
IPHCA officials say all 18 members of the Illinois Congressional delegation signed a letter to Gov. JB Pritzker urging him to work quickly with state lawmakers to provide funding. The delegation said they will all do their part in Washington D.C. to prioritize federal funding as well. Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Taylorville) says no health center should be forced to close. He believes this is a time where Republicans and Democrats have to come together to address problems they see at the community health centers, especially the populations they serve.
"I've been saying for 7.5 years it's not enough just to give coverage to people under Medicaid. They've gotta have access to the medical care and that's what they don't have," Davis explained. "But that's the hole that our community health centers try to fill. We need to make sure that they are a viable part of our health care community."
Senators Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth have already joined 165 members of Congress in a separate letter calling for long-term community health center funding. IPHCA President and CEO Jordan Powell is thankful lawmakers are working in a bipartisan manner to call attention to the threats facing the centers. Powell says these locations have been "working around the clock every day to fight the spread of coronavirus during this time of crisis." He mentioned Illinois centers have stepped up to help admirably, but the facilities are quickly "starving" funds needed to stay open. Kirchhoff said the centers need action as soon as possible.
"If the health centers were to close, we cannot know what that will mean for the long-term health of the system. We can't guarantee that staff will return. They could take other positions, they could go to other industries. We can't guarantee that service sites would reopen or that programs would return to the community," said Kirchhoff.
The IPHCA is currently working with the Pritzker administration to create a funding plan to keep the centers running. Members hope lawmakers will be able to work quickly to pass a proposal, but they don't know when the General Assembly will return to the Capitol. Lawmakers haven't been in session since March 5. Legislative leaders have discussed a possibility of returning on March 31, but they are still working through health and safety precautions in order to move forward.
Davis said a financial plan could be passed on the federal level with unanimous consent. However, he added members would have to make sure no one would try to object. "If they do object, we ought to do what the Senate is doing and go out in a safe manner and cast votes while still practicing social distancing. But we gotta have an agreement out of the Senate first." The initial phases of the coronavirus emergency funding packages were first passed out of the House. Davis said his chamber led and the Senate followed. "Now it's their turn to lead."
The Congressman hopes federal and state lawmakers make sure the community health centers are a "viable part to any solution" as more people are unemployed and need easier access to medical providers. "If it's not addressed, we need to come back together in the same bipartisan way this letter was, and actually push for making sure our community health centers are that integral part of our health care system."