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Opinion: Congress abandons community health centers, hurting thousands in Bay Area

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On Sept. 30, critical funding for federally qualified community health centers expired. This perceived lack of urgency endangers the health of our nation’s most vulnerable. Now, every community health center in California faces drastic cuts in federal funding that will cause many services to be discontinued, patients to be sent to emergency rooms, clinic staff laid off and some health center doors closed permanently.

This critical funding pays for day-to-day clinic operations including staffing and medical supplies. In California, the funding cuts could exceed $300 million, affecting nearly 300,000 patients, according to a report by the National Association of Community Health Centers.

If Congress doesn’t act soon, Community Health Partnership’s member clinics will lose at least $18 million in base funding, causing more than 20,000 patients in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties to potentially lose access to their neighborhood health centers and the safety net.

Ralph, Silber, CEO of the Alameda Health Consortium, estimates that Alameda County may lose over $19 million in base funding, which could leave 20,000 of its residents without care. The two largest clinics serving the East Bay, LifeLong and La Clínica, alone will lose more than $11 million, potentially affecting access to healthcare for 12,532 patients.

These patients are already among our community’s most vulnerable in terms of social determinants of health, which include economic stability, neighborhood environment, education, food access, community and health care system. Without preventive health care, the chances of major health complications rise, including hospital visits that can put a person or family in financial ruin.

Now, with the president’s proposed tax cuts for the wealthy, community health faces additional threats. Congress is seeking to fund community health centers by robbing Medicare and Social Security, as well as gutting the Affordable Care Act, pitting seniors against women, children, the disabled and poor.

While lawmakers fight over tax cuts for the 1 percent, our people suffer.

Community Health Centers have been — and continue to be — at the front line of health care in the safety net system. Community Health Centers treat patients affected by the fires across the Bay Area, inoculate vulnerable groups from hepatitis A in southern California, and provide checkups for infants and toddlers.

By withholding critical funding, our region stands to lose its supply of doctors and care teams at the same time that Community Health Centers see growing demand from our most vulnerable uninsured and underinsured communities.

While the majority in Congress and the president play politics with our system of health care and the safety net, our community suffers.

With federal funding still in question and attempts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act continuing, it is imperative that both state and county health systems continue to cultivate their partnerships with Community Health Centers to maintain and grow funding streams, pass legislation, and keep patients healthy across clinic and hospital systems.

U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, represents the 18th Congressional District. Dolores Alvarado is CEO of the Community Health Partnership, which represents the Community Health Centers of Santa Clara and San Mateo counties.

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