What’s in Store for the Future of FQHCs?

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COVID 19 has had a massive impact on healthcare providers. The FQHCcommunity has been hit particularly hard, as elective procedures and preventative screenings declined during the pandemic. Over the ensuing months, many FQHCs furloughed staff and suspended services to keep their businesses open. It’s been a challenging time, as many providers shifted care delivery to telemedicine while other doctors and nurses considered early retirement, and practices even shut down. Community health centers provide an important safety net in the United States. What’s in store for these organizations as we move toward the end of 2020 and into the New Year?

Current State of FQHCs

Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) studied the current state of our nation’s community health centers and how they are adapting to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of the findings included:

  • Fully 90% of health centers now provide COVID-19. In 16-states and Washington, D.C., all FQHCs are testing patients. The majority offer walk-up or drive-through testing, and the data showed that these organizations doubled the amount of testing over the national standard.
  • The majority of testing occurred on people of color, which predominately make up the FQHC patient demographic.
  • Despite the increase in testing and the move to telemedicine virtual visits, health centers report steep drop-offs in patient visits and many staff who are unable to report to work. The data showed a 43% drop in the volume of average patient visits from before the pandemic because many Americans are skipping all non-essential clinical visits.
  • FQHCs report that approximately 11% of their staff are quarantined or not working due to a lack of protective equipment, site closures, exposure to the virus, or family commitments.
  • As of May 2020, 1,954 healthcare sites temporarily closed due to COVID-19 repercussions. KFF says, “The number of temporary site closures likely undercounts total closures, given that more than a quarter of health centers did not respond to the survey and are not included in the total.”
  • FQHCs received $1.98 billion in governmental rapid response grants. However, KFF noted that more money is needed to shore up these organizations because 68% of health center revenues come from patient visits. This makes for an uncertain financial picture for many of these organizations.

Future State of FQHCs

Community health centers provide an important service during COVID-19, testing far more patients than the average nationally. These organizations serve as an important safety new for poor and low-income families, and in many rural communities, they are the only healthcare provider for miles around.

FQHCs have stepped up to the plate to increase their testing efforts. They’ve also adopted telemedicine to treat behavioral healthcare patients as well as other healthcare concerns. As we enter cold and flu season, look to these organizations to continue to serve patients, particularly as we expect to see the number of COVID-19 cases potentially continue to rise this winter. But the latest surveys show that these organizations are struggling financially and more needs to be done to protect these important care delivery mechanisms.

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