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Dr. Jackson Griggs: Federal funding crucial for Family Health Center in COVID-19 crisis and beyond

Dr. Jackson Griggs: Federal funding crucial for Family Health Center in COVID-19 crisis and beyond

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In the coming days, Congress has a unique opportunity to support two institutions of immense value to every American: the U.S. Postal Service and the country’s network of more than 1,400 community health centers.

Every day, people in every corner of the country depend on the Postal Service to deliver prescriptions, packages, correspondence and a host of important documents. Every bit as important are the 29 million individuals, including 1.6 million Texans, who depend on community health centers to deliver vital health-care services — services such as vaccinations, cancer screenings, counseling, medications, dental and vision care and prenatal care.

Members of Congress spent this weekend debating whether to appropriate $25 billion for the Postal Service. We hope any final legislation includes funding for community health centers.

The Family Health Center cares for more than 58,000 patients each year. Through a network of 15 primary-care sites, we strive to increase access to excellent, comprehensive primary and preventative health care in McLennan and Bell counties. We provide whole-person care, fully integrating physical, behavioral and oral health. And we train the next generation of health-care professionals to be exceptional clinicians.

Nationwide, community health centers are the only network of primary care centers delivering services for all in need — regardless of ability to pay. During the COVID-19 pandemic, this commitment to serve all people has proved critical in Texas and locally. Since April, CHCs across our state have conducted more than 250,000 diagnostic COVID-19 tests. Locally at Family Health Center, 53 percent of our positive COVID-19 results have been among community residents who lack health insurance. The severe economic downturn and mounting job and health insurance losses will mean CHCs like us will have to stretch even further to meet emerging and chronic health needs experienced in our community.

Continued federal funding from the Community Health Center Fund is part of the solution. Texas’ 73 community health centers receive some $183 million from the fund each year. Originally established in 2010 and funded for five years, it has been reauthorized only in short-term increments, most recently for six months, ending in November.

Currently, there is no legislative vehicle to extend the fund beyond November. Without swift congressional action, access to primary care, behavioral health, vision and dental care and substance-use disorder services are at risk across the state and country. Loss of funding threatens some community health centers with closure and forces others to eliminate key services and staff — leaving rural and underserved populations stranded.

America needs Congress to expedite delivery of this funding with the Postal Service bill.

It’s said about the Postal Service that “neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night” can bring it to a halt. That same commitment is true of community health centers. We are a tenacious group of doctors, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, dentists, social workers, technicians, pharmacists and other staff compelled to serve our communities with compassion. Congressional action sustaining community health center funding will help these centers endure the COVID-19 crisis and ensure they stay strong.

Dr. Jackson Griggs is CEO of Waco’s Family Health Center.

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