Clinic needs Congress to act soon

Kimberly Rubio

Assistant editor

Community Health Development can continue operating as usual through the end of March, but without swift action by the U.S. Congress the future of the Uvalde-based health care organization is in jeopardy.

Congress passed a short-term spending bill on Monday that included six years of provisions for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, but to CHDI chief executive officer Rachel Gonzales-Hanson’s chagrin, community health care centers across the country were ignored.

The continuing resolution ended a three-day government shutdown and will fund the government through Feb. 8.

“We are glad they passed funding for CHIP but if those individuals that have CHIP can’t access their health center, what good is it?” asked Gonzales-Hanson.

The Uvalde clinic saw nearly 2,000 Uvalde County children last year, of which 80 utilized CHIP.  CHDI employs over 100 staff members and serves more than 10,000 patients each year.

“Maybe 35-40 percent of our operating budget is composed of federal grants and trust fund grants. The rest of our revenue comes from various funding sources, including patient revenue, which we receive for services we provide patients,” Gonzalez-Hanson said.

Despite widespread bipartisan agreement on the need to pass long-term funding for community health centers, Gonzalez-Hanson was disappointed to learn funding for such centers was not included in the continuing resolution introduced by the House of Representatives on Jan. 16.

“It is odd that at this point they haven’t come up with a fix,” she said, noting that the previous spending package included funding for community health centers, the National Health Service Corps and the Teaching Health Centers Graduate Medical Education.

“At the last minute, before [the House] approved a six-year fix, they pulled out everybody but CHIP, and we never understood why,” Gonzales-Hanson said. “It was done at the last minute, and we’re baffled.”

The Community Health Center Fund provides more than 70 percent of funding for many community health clinics. The fund was created by the Affordable Care Act, which set aside an additional $11 billion to create more community health centers and expand capacity at existing ones, including CHDI.

“It is hard for the health centers because we are trying to plan for the future,” Gonzales-Hanson said. “We are trying to hire staff, but I can’t in good conscience offer someone a contract when I am not sure if funding will continue.”

Gonzales-Hanson said CHDI has continued to receive assurances from U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-San Antonio, and U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, that the issue will be resolved in a manner positive for CHDI.

“Both Hurd and Cornyn have a track record of supporting us, but while they keep telling us the fiscal cliff will get fixed we don’t know the game plan and it makes us uncomfortable,” Gonzales-Hanson said, adding that neither she nor her staff has been successful in reaching U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, or his staff.

Gonzales-Hanson said patients, supporters and elected officials on the local level have all played a part in phoning lawmakers.

She said constituents should be asking lawmakers when they plan on fixing the fiscal cliff and how they plan to do so.

“It makes a huge difference when they start hearing the same questions from people in the community,” Gonzales-Hanson said. “They realize they need to start paying attention to these voters, who care about their health center, if they want their vote.”

CHDI has also received support from the National Association of Community Health Centers and the Texas Association of Community Health Centers.

“The National Association of Community Health Centers and our state association have been tremendous in how they help us advocate. We are all working together to make sure that we are contacting law makers and having our supporters contact lawmakers on our behalf,” Gonzales-Hanson said.

Constituents may contact U.S. Congressman Will Hurd at 202-225-4511; U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, 202-224-2934; or U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, 202-224-5922., 830-278-3335

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