Colorado’s community health centers were hitting the phones in an effort to get Congress to focus on a funding crisis facing centers that serve 27 million people nationwide.
In October, Congress missed its deadline to re-up funding for the Community Health Centers Program, and Scott Bookman, executive director of the Uncompahgre Medical Center in Norwood, says the money could run out as soon as March.
“What the community health center fund does is provide 70 percent of the federal grant funding for community health centers such as ours,” he explains. “And without that funding, we would be greatly challenged in providing services and keeping our doors open.”
Some 740,000 Coloradans rely on community health centers for care. Over a quarter of the nation’s health centers are reporting difficulties in hiring and retaining staff, according to a recent survey, even before the 70-percent cut takes effect.
For people living outside of Colorado’s metropolitan areas, community health centers can be a lifeline for medical care, and Bookman notes Uncompahgre is the only option for people living in Ouray, Montrose and San Miguel counties’ remotest areas. He says in addition to being a full-service medical home, their center is the only available emergency room within a two-hour radius.
“We provide primary care, we provide dental services, we provide medical services,” he adds. “And we also have a quasi-emergency room, and so we medevac out more than 100 patients per year by medical helicopter.”
Bookman says helicopter service is critical in the winter, when conditions can add hours to ambulance rides or when roads become impassable. Until Congress takes up bipartisan legislation introduced in the House (H.R. 3770) and the Senate (S. 1899) to extend funding, Bookman says they’ll remain in a holding pattern as long as possible.
Public News Service – CO
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