Community health centers could lose 70 percent of their funding - WSIL-TV 3 Southern Illinois

Community health centers could lose 70 percent of their funding

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WSIL -- Congress missed a deadline Saturday to renew funding for a number of federal programs, including community health centers, which provide health care to tens of thousands of people in Southern Illinois.

As a result, community health centers could lose 70 percent of their funding in a matter of months.

Patsy Jenson is the executive director of the Shawnee Health Service, a community health center which serves 32,000 patients in Jackson and Williamson counties.

"We're kind of a safety net provider for many, many people," said Jensen. "We have a lot of people who are working hard, but can't afford their health care costs for insurance or otherwise, so we provide a discount for these patients."

Jensen said a 70 percent cut to her organization's funding would be devastating.

She said it's a loss of $2.2 million, which could mean 50 workers losing their jobs and 2,975 patients losing access to care.

"Seventy percent is a tremendous amount of money that you're losing," said Jensen. "And that will have a significant impact on our budget."

The National Association of Community Health Centers estimates 446,783 patients in Illinois and 9 million across the country will lose access to care, if Congress doesn't pass a funding bill for community health centers. The association also said 2,800 sites could close.

Jensen said both Democrats and Republicans support community health centers, so she's surprised Congress didn't make the deadline. 

She blames partisan bickering, which she sees as a problem in Washington, D.C. and Springfield.

"When you have politics playing a role in every arena at the federal level and the state level, those kinds of divides start to happen and erodes that bipartisan support," said Jensen.

A couple of bi-partisan bills have been introduced to provide funding for community health centers. 

Republican Congressman Mike Bost is listed as a co-sponsor of one of them, H.R. 3770.

Democratic Senators Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth are both also on record of supporting community health centers.

Jensen said there's still time for Congress to act, but not much.

Some community health centers start their new fiscal year in January, which means they will have to make important decisions about staffing and services within weeks.

Jensen said Shawnee's fiscal year begins in April, but said key decisions will still have to be made soon.

"Our goal is to be in a position where we can continue to serve our patients at the level we're serving them now," said Jensen.

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