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Community health centers on red alert ahead of funding vote this - KPAX.com | Continuous News | Missoula & Western Montana

Community health centers on red alert ahead of funding vote this week

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MISSOULA - If there’s one thing Montana’s representatives are agreeing on this week, its that federally-qualified community health centers play a crucial role in Montana’s health care.

29,000 Montanans are at risk of losing their health care if the Community Health Investment, Modernization and Excellence (CHIME) Act of 2017 does not pass on Thursday when it comes to a vote.

It was Red Alert day for community health centers like Missoula's Partnership Health Center on Tuesday as they continue to advocate for the passage of legislation that re-authorizes federal funding for community health centers nationwide.

This is a big deal for Montana, because the community health center system statewide provides about ten percent of the healthcare services Montanas use.

Employees at Partnership Health Center in Missoula wore red Tuesday to bring awareness to Thursday’s congressional vote.

In Washington D.C. this week, all three of Montana’s representatives--Democrat Jon Tester, and Republicans Greg Gianforte and Steve Daines--stood together to solidify their support for the CHIME Act that would ensure funding for CHC’s, and several other critical health care programs, like the National Health Service Corps., that brings young doctors to rural and underserved communities.

“Without action, without congress taking action, the CHC’s will lose 70 percent of their funding nationwide," said senator Steve Daines. "Washington D.C. needs to get this done. I want to thank the bicameral, bipartisan members of the senate the house who are leading in this effort. It’s not often, in this city, that we have bicameral and bipartisan support, but the community health centers have that today, and that’s a great thing."

At PHC in Missoula, that means losing close to 11 percent of their operating budget. Progress slowed at Partnership while funding has been uncertain since its authorization sunsetted at the end of September, 2017.

“With this at risk, what’s been happening at PHC, is we are being our usual fiscally conservative selves, so that hasn’t changed, but we are not able or willing to expand programming, look at other sites. The community needs assessment came out recently, there’s lots of need in this community,” said Laurie Francis, the Executive Director at Partnership Health Center.

There are 16 community health centers statewide that take all types of patients and serve people on a sliding pay scale, even if they have no insurance. Recently released statistics show that in Missoula and Mineral counties:

  • About 15,000 people receive care through Partnership.
  • 106,000 people in Montana go to CHC’s for their care.
  • 7.9 percent of patients statewide are American Indian
  • 4,636 patients are veterans
  • A majority percentage of FQHC serve people at or below the poverty level.

“The thing we do here, is really focus on health and well being from a holistic standpoint," said PHC Interim Medical Director Katherine Krebsbach. "So we look at our patients, not just as, oh you have diabetes and high blood pressure, but oh you also have issues with your housing, and your food, and really try to figure out how we can help people find health and managing of your chronic conditions, but also health in their overall sense of well being so they can be better members of our community." 

RELATED: DPHHS hears concerns about proposed Medicaid cuts

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