Dr. Greg McHan examines Lenny Falletta III, 18 months, of Blairsville with a little help from Lenny’s dad last month at the Georgia Mountains Health clinic in Blue Ridge. The clinic network needs to hire another pediatrician but has put the brakes on that process because it doesn’t know whether Congress will renew its funding. Nationwide, one-quarter of all such clinics have already taken a hit to their personnel because of this uncertainty. (Photo special to the AJC by Rebecca Breyer)

Survey: Health centers hit by Congressional funding uncertainty

Across the nation, community health centers that have furnished care for decades have already felt the impact of Congress’ inability to budget consistently, according to a new survey.

The National Association of Community Health Centers surveyed its members and said one-quarter reported that they were already finding it harder to recruit and retain staff. Workers don’t know whether the money for their job will really be there next year.

The report echoes the findings of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in Georgia. Last week, the AJC reported that expiring federal health care funding was already having a broad impact on Georgia, as organizations and agencies were forced to plan for a dire scenario.

An array of health care programs, including community health centers, saw key funding deadlines pass or their programs expire on the first day of the federal fiscal year, Oct. 1. Congress did not act to address them with a sense of urgency because, some Republican senators and representatives said, the programs still had some money left in the bank. Instead, they said, the GOP lawmakers had to focus on attempting to repeal Obamacare one last time before their ability to do that with a simple majority ended abruptly Sept. 30.

The community health centers are now funded until Dec. 8 with a stopgap continuing resolution.

According to the new survey, many more of the health centers have put in place plans to institute hiring freezes (72 percent will do so), reduce hours (nearly half) or lay off staff (41 percent). The centers were established as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty, and they currently serve about 27 million patients, according to the association. The vast majority of those patients are at or below poverty level, and about 40 percent have no insurance.

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