After spending more than 20 years in health care, I’ve seen the life-saving role that Montana’s community health centers (CHC) have played in our communities. Right now, though, because of Washington’s impasse, care to patients is in jeopardy.
Community health centers are nonprofit health care organizations that provide access to quality, affordable, and comprehensive primary and preventive medical, dental, and mental health/substance disorder care. They are particularly unique because they ensure access to underserved, underinsured and uninsured people. And they are particularly important to rural communities where they can be the only facility providing basic health care services to Montana families. There are 17 centers with over 40 sites in Montana providing care to over 106,000 Montanans.
We are deeply concerned about the life-threatening consequences of continuing resolution funding decisions. These week-to-week budgets are putting us on tenuous ground, putting our funding in question and, without a long-term budget, could lead to shutting down and limiting services at Montana’s community health centers. Lives are at risk.
It has now been more than 110 days without a long-term budget. Another budget fix via a continuing resolution raises anxiety for all patients. This tenuous situation puts a halt on employment including hiring new doctors, dentists, behavioral health therapists, nurses, and care managers. It puts a halt to opening clinics that would be closer to your homes. It halts all movement forward.
Montana health centers have historically enjoyed bi-partisan support for their services, for the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) loan repayment program, the Teaching Health Center program, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. We want ideas such as Senator Tester’s co-sponsored bill to come to the floor for a vote.
To Congress: this is not a game. We need a better budget for Montana’s people. Take the step and vote for permanent funding for community health centers, NHSC, teaching health centers and CHIP. Lives depend on it.