(02/09/2018)
By Bob Weaver

West Virginia's rural health centers are at risk, including Minnie Hamilton Health System in Grantsville and Roane General Hospital in Spencer.

Sharply divided Washington continues to put the healthcare for millions of Americans at risk by holding hostage longtime funding streams to Community Health Centers, many of them rural.

Minnie Hamilton Healthcare System CEO Steve Whited called the funding problems "mind boggling... a funding crisis that is long term could simply put rural health care providers out of business."

Despite the tireless, persistent and dogged advocacy of patients, board members and staff from rural centers across WV, the funding crisis rears its head again, according to Louise H. Reese, Chief Executive, Office of the WV Primary Health Association.

Thirty Community Health Centers rely on federal support to care for more than 440,000 West Virginians.

"Federal funding provides resources for health centers to offset the cost of uninsured, offer comprehensive enabling services such as health education, transportation, outreach, and assistance with challenges such as homelessness, food insecurity or domestic violence. Without federal support, Community Health Centers cannot continue to provide these much needed, high quality, primary and preventive services," said Reese.

"We need long term commitments to resolve the almost annual uncertainty of federal funding that seems to be looming each year," said Whited.

Congress has opted to delay decisions about critically important health program funding, including health centers and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which was finally funded after being held as a hostage to use in the DACA crisis.

CEO Whited said, "There is no guarantee these grants will be funded for continuation, which is certainly scary as most of us are up for our continuation awards notices now. So, what do we need, we need long term commitments to resolve the almost annual uncertainty of federal funding."

Attracting physicians to rural hospitals and clinics is an expensive personnel cost, regional facilities paying doctors $350,000 to nearly $500,000 annual salary, according to 2015 statistics.

Whited explained Minnie Hamilton is needing about $2.5 million annual money they receive, saying simply they cannot make up that cash difference if not readily available.

"This uncertainty and instability with a funding crisis not only leads to employment slowdowns, it leads to the inability to expand on services, delay current projects, and overall not only impacts the organization financially, it certainly impacts our communities in that our citizens would not receive basic health care need," Whited said.

"We have experienced the huge impact that instability provides, these past two years and recruitment woes really caused a wave of uncertainty, and our organization has been tremendously impacted."

"The government seems to be able to fund so many overseas projects, waste monies that is continuously revealed through media reports, and so on, that certainly they can clean this up and provide support for Americans first," concluded Whited.

The care health centers improves health and saves money – keeping sick patients out of the emergency room and bringing access to communities and patients who would otherwise go without.


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