Advocates Plead for Federal Dollars as Health Centers Close Across CA

Suzanne Potter | California News Service
Community health centers are on the front lines of the pandemic, yet they have been left out of some federal relief programs. Photo Credit: Pixabay

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — About 200 health centers across the state have closed their doors during the pandemic because the number of patient visits dropped by half, prompting advocates to push for more federal relief.

They do get some CARES Act funding, but the Paycheck Protection Act specifically excluded clinics with more than 500 employees. Carmela Castellano-Garcia, president and CEO with the California Primary Care Association, said 22 of the state’s largest clinics are really hurting financially.

“We are swept in the funding allocations that are not specific to health center needs. And so therefore our needs have not been addressed,” Castellano-Garcia said. “So that is why we will continue to push for health center-specific funding.”

The latest tranche of federal funding allocated dollars for safety-net hospitals but excluded health centers, so advocates are asking the Department of Health and Human Services to carve out a specific fund for the centers.

Castellano-Garcia said the state’s community health centers provide health care to millions of low-income Medi-Cal patients – a population that is only going to grow as job losses mount.

“There are 1,300 sites serving 7.2 million people,” she said. “We are seeing 1 in 3 of the state’s Medi-Cal recipients and 1 in 6 Californians.”

Many health centers are hanging on by offering more visits over the telephone to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Currently, 50% of visits are done over the phone, a trend that may persist after the pandemic subsides.