In light of the rising number of coronavirus cases across the nation and in the state of New York, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York held a press conference Thursday, March 5 where she called for the establishment of a Community Health Center Preparedness Program.
As of today, there are more than 170 cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) in New York state, with a majority of cases residing in Westchester county. National fear over the spread of the new virus has led to impromptu legislation and fund allocation in an effort to reduce fatalities and educate the public on the nature of the virus.
The Senate recently passed an $8 billion funding package to combat the virus – $6.8 billion more than the Trump administration’s original request. The package will fund vaccine development, new equipment, hiring of staff and will provide an increase in testing centers. It also includes $100 million dollars for community health centers.
Community Health Centers are typically non-profit, community-based and patient-directed organizations that provide services to uninsured and underserved populations in both urban and rural areas.
More than 2.3 million New Yorkers live in rural areas with limited access to hospitals. These rural residents often rely on CHCs to get basic medications and tests rather than traveling to hospitals. Whereas over one million New Yorkers were uninsured in 2018 and rely on the low-cost health care provided by CHCs.
Directors of state health departments across the country have turned to community health centers to test and monitor those infected with the coronavirus. Unlike hospitals, which can get emergency funding from the Hospital Preparedness Program, CHCs don’t have an emergency fund in times of health crises.
“CHCs are the nation’s frontline public health responders and are essential to the health care safety net,” Gillibrand said. “The funding will be used for real-time testing, staffing, facility improvements, antiviral medications and vaccines.”
Gillibrand is asking for $500 million in the next appropriations bill drafted at the end of 2020. This money will prepare CHCs to properly deal with the next national health emergency.
In the meantime, Gillibrand and Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s goal is to make sure that all healthcare providers in the state are able to administer the test to detect coronavirus in order to isolate those infected and prevent further spreading. Gillibrand expects it will take approximately two weeks for testing kits to be made available across the state.