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Under Financial Strain, Community Health Centers Ramp Up Coronavirus Response

This story is a part of a partnership that features NPR and Kaiser Health News.

This story may be republished free of charge (details).

On Tuesday, the Trump administration introduced $100 million in supplemental funding for group well being facilities to assist the response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Health centers are playing a critical role,” mentioned James Macrae, affiliate administrator on the federal Bureau of Primary Health Care.

About 29 million folks within the U.S. depend on group well being facilities, which give care to low-income and uninsured sufferers. As hospitals tackle extra COVID-19 sufferers, group well being facilities are remodeling how they look after sufferers. Some safety-net clinics have instituted new infectious illness protocols and briefly shifted assets away from routine major care.

The new funding goes to 1,381 group well being facilities (a lot of which function a number of clinics), primarily to assist extra COVID-19 testing, telehealth and the acquisition of non-public protecting gear.

“It’s nowhere near what is needed, but we are thankful,” mentioned Bob Marsalli, CEO of the Washington Association for Community Health, a bunch representing group well being clinics in Washington state.

Marsalli mentioned group well being facilities within the state are underneath rising monetary pressure as they ramp up for the coronavirus battle, whereas additionally shedding some key sources of funding.

“[Our clinics] are reallocating their workforce intelligently, but frantically, to keep up with the demand,” mentioned Marsalli.

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Rapidly Redesigning Systems

Under regular circumstances, HealthPoint, a group well being middle in Auburn, Washington, would encourage sufferers to stroll into the clinic for all their medical wants, whether or not refilling a prescription or studying about vitamin.

“Usually our lobby is slammed,” mentioned Dr. Esther Johnston. “It’s open space and everyone is together.”

But just lately just a few sufferers in surgical masks had been ready for appointments. And Johnston is telling sufferers to remain away except they completely want care.

“It is a bit frustrating and demoralizing, but it’s the reality of the situation,” she mentioned.

HealthLevel runs greater than a dozen clinics all through western Washington. Now, on the entryway of its clinics, workers question everybody to determine COVID-19 signs and monitor sufferers to ensure they continue to be at a distance from each other as soon as inside.

Johnston mentioned the clinic was not set as much as home an inflow of sufferers with infectious illnesses. There are restricted examination rooms and each must be shut down and cleaned after a affected person suspected of getting COVID-19 is available in.

“We just don’t have enough space to be able to do that on a routine basis,” she mentioned.

Like many group well being facilities, HealthLevel’s mannequin is constructed round bringing folks into clinics for major care. Now the group is taking new precautions to stop the unfold of coronavirus and preserve workers secure.(Will Stone for KHN)

Johnston worries about what’s coming as COVID-19 circumstances rise in her space.

“We pride ourselves on being a primary care home,” Johnston mentioned. “We don’t have enough N95 masks, nor, to be honest, were we prepared for a situation where everyone had to be properly fitted.”

HealthLevel’s chief medical officer, Dr. Judy Featherstone, mentioned most appointments are actually achieved over the telephone. Her workers is fielding calls from folks involved about signs, in addition to new sufferers who need to have a health care provider in case they contract the COVID-19 virus.

“It is a bit like taking 20 years of work and redesigning it in a week,” mentioned Featherstone. “I think we are anticipating potential workforce problems.”

Like many clinics in Washington, HealthLevel has arrange out of doors testing websites, however the provide of kits and private protecting gear, or PPE, limits the variety of sufferers who may be examined for COVID-19.

New Financial Strain On Clinics

As fewer sufferers are available in for care, the management worries in regards to the middle’s monetary future. Clinics have switched to telephone-based appointments, nevertheless it took a number of weeks for Washington’s Medicaid program to regulate the way it pays for these visits. Meanwhile, group well being facilities are eliminating routine dental visits, a key funding stream.

“You take those three factors … and you have already started to lose revenue before you’re gearing up for new ways of providing care,” mentioned Michael Erikson, CEO of Neighborcare Health, which serves greater than 70,000 Washington residents, over half of them on Medicaid. “We are on a pathway to losing $3 million a month.”

The Washington Association for Community Health initiatives that the cutback in dental care might result in a $250 million shortfall for the state’s group well being middle system over the subsequent 9 months.

Vital Role In The Health System

Community clinics play an vital position in serving sufferers who in any other case might need no place to go moreover the ER. Erikson mentioned his group is attempting to alleviate some stress on the hospital system by seeing sufferers with pressing well being care points not associated to COVID-19.

“For instance, a wound care patient who has underlying diabetes, you do not want to expose that patient to a potential COVID environment,” mentioned Erikson.

Some group clinic leaders now fear about shedding workers to suspected or precise coronavirus an infection.

“It is very critical that the clinics stay at full staff so only those who are critically sick are cared for at the hospital,” mentioned Sheila Berschauer, CEO of Moses Lake Community Health Center, a rural well being care supplier in Washington that serves a couple of third of its county’s inhabitants of about 100,000.

If even 5 to 10 well being care staff fall in poor health, Berschauer mentioned, that might pressure her group and, because of this, presumably overwhelm the native hospital.

She mentioned some sufferers nonetheless don’t admire the severity of the pandemic and change into upset when they’re despatched to the out of doors testing web site slightly than into the clinic.

A well being care employee at a well being middle exterior Seattle mentioned a number of sufferers have misrepresented their COVID-19 dangers in an effort to get previous screening.

“We had a patient make it all the way into the exam room before she revealed that her partner is COVID exposed, and she is feeling ill,” the worker mentioned. The employee is fearful about shedding their job for talking out, so NPR and KHN should not utilizing the particular person’s title.

Health care staff who noticed the affected person weren’t sporting PPE as a result of these restricted provides are reserved for sufferers identified to be susceptible to COVID-19.

“Now all of the providers and staff in that facility need to start self-monitoring for signs of infection,” the worker mentioned. “If they get infected, then the entire clinic closes. It’s a big deal.”

This story is a part of a partnership between NPR and Kaiser Health News.

This story is a part of a partnership that features NPR and Kaiser Health News.

This story may be republished free of charge (details).

Will Stone: @WStonereports

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