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Community Health Centers Warn Of Impending Crisis

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ERIKA BERAS
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90.5 WESA
At the Squirrel Hill Health Center, an FQHC, Medical Director Andrea Fox treats patient Vladzimir Shein while Medical Office Assistant Rita Bidrat translates from Russian to English.

Community health clinics in Pennsylvania say they are on the verge of crisis. 

Congress has yet to reauthorize federal health center grant funding to Federally Qualified Health Centers, or FQHCs, which provide primary, dental, behavioral and substance abuse services to people with limited access to care. The Pennsylvania Association of Community Health Centers said this money comprises roughly 13 percent of the total revenue for FQHCs in the commonwealth.

Drew Pierce is the CEO of Primary Health Network, which has community health clinics in Pennsylvania and Ohio. He told reporters on a Tuesday conference call that patients will lose access to the most basic of preventative medical care if Congress doesn't act.

"We take care of folks, we try to address their needs before their needs become prevalent," he said. "If you take away our funding that’s going to affect that."

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, though these federal grants are not the primary source of revenue for FQHCs, they are "essential to support health centers." The money pays for services not covered by insurance, while also subsidizing copays and deductibles for low-income patients. 

Susan Friedberg Kalson is the CEO of Squirrel Hill Health Center, one of 10 FQHCs in Pittsburgh. She said if the grant funding disappears it will have a devastating effect on patient access.

"We might have to close a site," she said. "We hire from the communities that we serve and we would also have to lay off staff, and we also might have to cut essential services."

Kalson and Pierce likely won’t have to immediately make these decisions. The federal Health Resources and Services Administration is providing month-to-month stop-gap funding until Congress approves funding, or until the agency runs out of money.

According to the Pennsylvania Association of Community Health Centers an estimated 400,000 Pennsylvanians would have limited access to care without this funding.