Community health centers are the cornerstone of equity in our health care system | Guest column

By Senator Manka Dhingra and Lisa Yohalem

After two years on the front lines of the pandemic response, our healthcare system has taken a hit. Providers such as community health centers have felt a severe impact on their workforce and finances. While federal emergency funds helped keep clinic doors open, a recall was desperately needed. Recognizing the problem, the Washington State Legislature recently made key investments to strengthen the system and advance health equity.

These investments recognize the vital role our health care safety net plays in protecting our communities, especially for vulnerable populations who are often disproportionately affected and have less access to care. Community health centers such as HealthPoint, with clinics in eastern and southern King County, went into hyperdrive when the pandemic hit, expanding telehealth and prescription delivery services and opening COVID-19 test and vaccination.

As trusted members of their communities, these health centers were able to partner with a wide range of local groups to provide education, address hesitation, and vaccinate community members. With equity in mind, they worked with schools, faith-based organizations, public health districts, community centers, fire departments, businesses and other organizations to reach as many people as possible.

While community health centers were able to transform their care delivery virtually overnight, their payment models were not as easy to adjust during the crisis. We discovered that state funding was inadvertently disrupting community health center finances, either due to payment shortages or when “normal times” measures could not be met due to shutdowns. urgency, safety measures or patient hesitation.

On the positive side, the pandemic has helped shine a light on health equity. In the long run, prioritizing the health of those who have historically been underserved will require building on the strengths of community health centers. Our legislature’s commitment to health equity goes beyond words, and that’s why this year’s state budget provided funds to ensure the continued financial stability of these vital community assets. .

With a budget that puts people first, the Legislature also invested in behavioral health care, addressed dental care shortages for low-income patients by funding the construction of new dental clinics, and expanded health coverage to all uninsured adults below 138% of the federal poverty level. , regardless of immigration status.

We cannot talk about health and well-being in our communities without talking about affordable housing. Stable and safe housing is essential for good health. To that end, the Legislature established a program to provide housing benefits to Medicaid enrollees who have medical risk factors that increase barriers to finding stable housing.

Our state’s strong history of commitment to community health has served us well; even though we had the first outbreak of COVID in the country, Washington has the 5th lowest COVID-related death rate of any state. This legislative session confirms our commitment to maintaining a strong health care safety net and achieving health equity for all.

Manka Dhingra is Deputy Majority Leader in the Washington State Senate and represents the 45th Legislative District.

Lisa Yohalem is CEO of HealthPoint, a community-based nonprofit network of health centers dedicated to providing high-quality health care to all who need it, regardless of circumstance.

Maria J. Book