The COVID-19 pandemic has only made health centers more vital as the nation grapples with economic insecurity and the severe implications of the pandemic across a broad spectrum of social determinants of health. Throughout the pandemic, health centers have administered more than 13 million vaccines and 12 million COVID tests—the majority of which were delivered to BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) communities—and these numbers continue to climb daily. It has long been our mission to help communities in need, and now we need our country’s leaders to take action to help us.
Sadly, we’ve witnessed the devastating impact of what lack of preparation and inadequate funding can mean, and the disproportionate impact these failures can have on underserved communities and marginalized populations. While our ask is much less than we need to ensure millions of Americans have life-saving health care access, it can serve as foundational investment with proven record of return.
COVID-19 has had long-term impacts – both in patients who suffer lasting effects, as well as health centers who have had to change the way they care for their communities.
Health Center Infrastructure
Establish a preparedness fund for federally qualified health centers (FQHCs).
Rationale: Health centers are vital extensions of our nation’s strapped state and local health departments. To remain prepared for emergencies, including pandemics, the federal government should support ongoing costs such as staffing, training, and planning.
Recommendation: $275M in federal funding for a national health center emergency preparedness grant program.
Address health care workforce burnout and build resilience.
Rationale: Health care workers on the frontlines of COVID-19 are suffering mental health effects, and community health centers must have the resources to support them.
Recommendation: Funding for evidence-based interventions at community health centers to ensure that providers are connected to behavioral health resources and peer support.
Adjust health center reimbursement to acknowledge staffing costs.
Rationale: COVID-19 has had major impacts on the health care labor market, shifting health centers’ cost structures. Adjustments must be made to preserve care quality.
Recommendation: Relief for health centers struggling to recruit and retain health care workers through tax credits or other mechanisms.
Provide payment adjustments for the treatment of long COVID patients.
Rationale: Long COVID patients require high-intensity care to manage unexpected symptoms and emerging social drivers of health.
Recommendation: Offer payment incentives to health centers for comprehensive, high-quality care for the management of long COVID.
Patient Care Delivery
Continue to invest in health centers as culturally and linguistically adept messengers for vaccinations, testing, and treatment.
Rationale: Many patients will overcome vaccine hesitancy with time and information from a trusted source. Health centers have vaccinated over 14.6 million Americans, 66% of whom were racial and ethnic minority patients.
Recommendation: The federal government should maintain the federal allocation process for COVID-19 vaccines and boosters, as well as continue investment in FQHC staff for vaccine outreach and education.
Include health center patients in research related to long COVID.
Rationale: To fully understand the impacts of long COVID, the individuals participating in research must appropriately reflect impacted communities.
Recommendation: Ensure that research studies tracking the impact of long COVID include health center patients.
Enable comprehensive pediatric care for kids at risk based on clinical factors and social drivers of health.
Rationale: Delayed care in children has led to lower vaccination rates and higher rates of dangerous viruses such as respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).
Recommendation: Support for community health centers to engage in targeted outreach and comprehensive care management to help kids and families catch up on necessary medical and behavioral health care.
Increase housing stability in communities highly impacted by COVID-19.
Rationale: Those suffering with long COVID may not be able to work and risk losing their housing. These impacts would only worsen their health and the health of their communities, and must be avoided.
Recommendation: Pass a national moratorium on evictions and foreclosures, while also accelerating access to rental assistance.