Product type: Commentary published in the Journal of Rural Health May, 2020.
Authors: Brad Wright, PhD, Erin Fraher, PhD, MPP, Marni Gwyther Holder, MSN, Jill Akiyama, MSPH, Brian Toomey, MSW
- Federally qualified community health centers (CHCs) are the nation’s primary care safety net, serving a patient population of whom 68% have incomes below the poverty level, 63% identify as racial/ethnic minorities, and 82% are uninsured or publicly insured
- COVID-19 threatens the financial viability of CHCs as patients avoid care due to stay-at-home efforts. The CHC workforce is also being reduced because of COVID‐19 exposure/infection and the use of CHC staff as relief for hospital staff stretched thin.
- COVID‐19 is also accelerating CHCs’ adoption of telehealth, as payers revise policies to classify CHCs as distant site providers and increase telehealth reimbursement during the crisis. This may improve healthcare access in rural areas, but it also strains CHCs’ already precarious financial solvency as they invest significant resources in infrastructure
- We must invest in CHCs now or risk many of them closing. Allowing the COVID‐19 pandemic to lead to a reduction in primary care, dental, and behavioral health capacity in rural areas with an already limited supply of providers would prove catastrophic.