DUNN — Along with other patient care centers across America, CommWell Health is breathing a sigh of relief.
For a while, lawmakers in Washington D.C. had them holding their breath with a “funding cliff” after funding expired Oct. 1. It was previously projected that the decrease in money would result in the closure of 2,800 health center sites and care for 27 million patients. CommWell would have dropped from $11.3 million to $3.3 million.
But early Friday morning, Congress reached a bipartisan budget deal to reauthorize funding for two years to keep centers running. The package included $7.8 billion in federal grant funding for the Community Health Center program. It also included an additional $600 million to support health center operations and address needs in communities across the country. Pam Tripp, CEO of CommWell Health, was pleased with the decision.
“About time last week, we were in a very frantic mode,” Tripp said Monday morning. “The reality of being 12 weeks away from losing 70 percent of our funding was just crystal clear.”
As a result of the previous outlook, Tripp and 20 colleagues from CommWell Health drove to the District to show support for CommWell and other health centers. During journey on Tuesday, Feb. 6, they participated in a nationwide “day of demonstration” through the National Association of Community Health Centers, advocates wore read in support of health centers, made calls and engaged the public through social media.
Tripp said it was a peaceful and successful demonstration. It also allowed them to address their concerns to Reps. David Rouzer , George Holding and Robert Pittenger. She praised them for support.
“As I visited with the different senators and representatives, they said ‘we know what you do,’“ Tripp said. “They realized the fact that community health centers save the government billions on dollars.”
She added that there’s high accountability for health care centers, which comes with a good value for tax dollars by keeping patients out of the hospitals.
“I would like to say that the people sitting in our lounges are the community,” she said regarding the demographics and the needs for service.
According to CommWell, 60 percent of the 24,500 patients they serve don’t have insurance. Some of the services provided include primary medical, dental behavioral health services, pharmacy and HIV/AIDS treatment. It was also noted that CommWell is the only organization between Raleigh and Wilmington that provides treatment for Hepatitis C and Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, an HIV prevention method for people who do not have the infection. In addition to Sampson, patients are served in five other counties and 15 locations. The 16th location, a mobile dental care unit travels to schools in Sampson and Johnston counties.
“This all would have been drastically effected,” she said.
Tripp said it would taken them back to 2002 funding levels, which were pretty low. With the additional $600 million approved by Congress, Tripp said the organization may have an opportunity to apply for grants or enhance services.
Lawmakers also extended funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program for 10 years. This program provides health assistance to low-income youths.
Funding was also approved for opioid and mental health treatment, with $6 billion. This will give CommWell more opportunities to help fix the problem.
“We believe Congress will look to Community Health Centers as one of several long-term solutions to solving the opioid crisis in America,” she said.
According to Tripp and a report from Castlight Health, the organization’s service area lies between Wilmington and Fayetteville — two cities identified with high rates of abuse. Wilmington ranked first and Fayetteville was 18th in 2017.
“Additional funding for the opioid crisis will help support and expand our existing comprehensive behavioral health care outpatient and inpatient services,” Tripp said.
Reach Chase Jordan at 910-249-4617. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.