Health Center Funding Cliff Puts Care for Thousands of Arkansans at Risk

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - Nearly 200,000 Arkansans could lose access to care if lawmakers in Washington do not extend funding for community health centers.

The legislation expires at the end of the month. 

According to a letter from 61 U.S. senators to the leadership of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP), 2,800 centers across the country would close, leaving 50,000 employees without jobs and nine million patients without access to health care. 

"Health centers are truly economic engines in so many communities," said LaShannon Spencer, the CEO of the nonprofit Community Health Centers of Arkansas. "They're vital to rural Arkansas." 

Spencer said the Natural State is home to 12 health centers with more than 100 individual sites, which are one-stop shops of dental, vision, behavioral and mental health services for nearly 200,000 patients. 

"Some health centers have actually saved patient lives because that is that first point of care that they receive within their community," she said. "I can't sleep because I think everyone deserves access to quality health care services."

However, Spencer could soon be able to get a good night's rest.

"If anything, we need to be giving more money than what they've got," said U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-AR, one of the 61 senators who wrote the letter to the HELP Committee.  

Sen. Boozman believes the bipartisan group can get its colleagues to actually agree on something when it comes to health care.

"Community health care centers ought to be one of the pillars," he said. "They do a tremendous job. They offer care to a lot of people who have fallen through the cracks." 

The group of senators plan to meet with the HELP Committee chairman and his staff.  

"The sad thing about dragging it out is it provides uncertainty so we simply have to get this thing done," Boozman said. 

Spencer is holding her U.S. Congressional delegation and president to their word to make sure her patients continue getting the quality care they need.

"We truly cannot afford to allow health centers to close," she said. "This is one thing that I do believe people can agree on because President Trump is in support of them. He knows the value community health centers bring to communities across the United States." 

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