Review: Virus could close Illinois community health centers

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Hundreds of health care facilities in Illinois that largely serve low-income and minority communities are facing financial chaos because they’ve canceled most routine doctor visits in an attempt to stymie the coronavirus pandemic, according to an industry organization’s report.
The internal financial review completed Wednesday for the Illinois Primary Health Care Association found that, without help, the state’s federally established community health centers face losses of $181 million and 4,350 layoffs during the next three months.
There are 51 community health centers operating 390 Illinois facilities. According to the review, nearly 40 percent of the centers, required to provide care regardless of ability to pay and often serving low-income regions, would have to close their doors.
Jordan Powell, the organization’s president and CEO, said if the facilities had sufficient personal protective equipment such as masks and gloves — in urgent demand nationwide — they could be key COVID-19 testing sites.
Heartland Health Centers, with 18 sites in the Chicago area along with temporarily closed public school clinics, reduced staff hours by 40% this week, president and CEO Gwenn Rausch said. Most of its 210 employees will work just three days a week to save $400,000 of a $1.2 million monthly payroll.
“Instead of seeing 500 patients a day, to minimize the number of well people coming into health centers who didn’t need to be there, and doing telehealth, we’re reduced to only about 100 patients a day,” Rausch said.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death. It’s claimed 19 lives in Illinois among 1,865 people infected.
Advocates hoped that a proposed $2 trillion stimulus package negotiated by the White House and Senate leaders and awaiting congressional action would include $3.2 billion for community health centers. But it provides less, $1.32 billion, Powell said.
“This isn’t a temporary problem …,” Powell said. “This pandemic will only increase the number of unemployed and uninsured in communities served by health centers. When this crisis is over, community health centers … will be in greater demand.”
An earlier package signed March 6 provided $100 million for the centers, but that spreads thin nationally and its distribution was just announced Wednesday, with $3.6 million set aside for Illinois.