OP/ED: Proposed federal cuts could reduce services at community health centers

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Written by Jeffery Taylor

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.

Community health centers like Oakhurst play a unique and important role at 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 non-existent. Our health centers have since grown to serve as the family doctor, dentist, and mental health provider to more than 27 million Americans in communities all over the country. As one of 34 community health centers in Georgia, Oakhurst provides affordable, accessible primary care to some 20,000 annually among our six facilities 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.

Community health centers have saved countless lives by providing affordable access to primary care for both insured and uninsured members of our community. At Oakhurst and other community health centers, patients have a convenient and full-service alternative to costly emergency room visits for treatment of non-emergency medical issues. Overall, Community Health Centers generated $24 billion in health care cost savings in the U.S., according to the National Association of Community Health Centers. We are also innovators, working with community partners to respond to public health crises, such as the opioid epidemic, the HIV epidemic and mental health issues right here in Georgia.

I believe that there is little doubt that health centers have contributed significantly to cost savings for the American taxpayer. “We are not just another health care program.” 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. Health Centers have drawn bipartisan support from U.S. Presidents and lawmakers — including our own Congressional delegation — because of our stellar record of success. 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 (HHS) itself has projected that the impact would be dramatic: closure of 2,800 health center locations, elimination of more than 50,000 jobs, and 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.

We employ our leaders to consider the consequences and fix the funding cliff. Our health depends on it.

Jeffery Taylor is the CEO of Oakhurst Medical Centers, Inc. in Stone Mountain, Georgia, serving individuals and families in DeKalb, Rockdale and surrounding counties.

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