Without immediate Congressional leadership to extend critical funding by Sept. 30, community health centers like Oakhurst Medical Centers, Inc. face a 70 percent reduction in federal funds, which the Department of Health and Human Services has estimated would lead to the closing of 2,800 health center sites nationwide.
Community health centers play a unique and important role on the national, state and local level on providing quality primary health care at affordable cost.
At Oakhurst Medical Centers, we are part of a nationwide network that started more than 50 years ago to provide quality primary care in many places where doctors and services were scarce or nonexistent.
As one of 34 community health centers in Georgia, Oakhurst and our six facilities provide affordable, accessible primary care to some 20,000 annually through appointments or walk-in service. Asian and African refugees and African Americans living near our facilities make up our multi-ethnic base; our diverse staff represents many nationalities.
Overall, the National Association of Community Health Centers says the community health centers generated $24 billion in health care cost savings in the U.S. .
There is little doubt that health centers have contributed significantly to cost savings for the American taxpayer. We continue to make a significant difference because we also address those factors that actually cause poor health, such as homelessness, lack of nutrition, stress or unemployment and drug addiction. Because of our stellar record of success, health centers have drawn bipartisan support from U.S. residents and lawmakers. Yet, such broad support may not be enough to ensure we can continue to serve people who need affordable primary care in the future.
Right now community health centers in Georgia are threatened with a severe loss in funding, as are other health centers in nearly 10,000 communities. This “funding cliff,” if not fixed by Congress by the end of this month, will have a direct and immediate impact on the health of our communities. The program would be reduced by approximately 70 percent. The federal Department of Health and Human Services has projected that the impact would be dramatic:
n Closure of 2,800 health center locations.
n Elimination of more than 50,000 jobs.
n A loss of access to care for more than 9 million patients.
Oakhurst Medical Centers serves nearly 20,000 patients per year. A 70 percent reduction in our funding would mean scaling back services, serving far fewer patients, and potential elimination of some critical services such as dental care and behavioral health care.
Please join Oakhurst Medical Centers and all of the other health centers in Georgia in calling on our federal lawmakers to extend health center funding before Sept. 30.
Jeffery Taylor is the CEO of Stone Mountain-based Oakhurst Medical Centers, Inc., which serves individuals and families in DeKalb, Rockdale and surrounding counties.