Community health centers are sources of primary care for low-income residents nationwide. More than 300 of these clinics are in LA and on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic. They provide services to Angelenos without health insurance. An estimated 27 million Americans don’t have health insurance.
In addition to medical services, these clinics provide substance abuse treatment, dentistry, and optometry. Established under the Affordable Healthcare Act, these clinics often serve patients with Medi-Cal, the free or low-cost state health care program.
Now more than 30% of visits are now COVID-19-related, says Dr. Michael Wilkes, professor of medicine and global health at UC Davis.
On today’s Daily Dose, he explains how community clinics are facing minimal resources and financial hardship during COVID-19.
How are clinic patients faring?
Especially vulnerable communities are facing the brunt of the pandemic, Wilkes says. That includes people with HIV and serious mental illnesses, plus those without permanent housing. Clinics are often tied with other resources, such as food banks, and COVID-19 has made it difficult to provide other services.
Under the Federal CARES Act, an estimated $100 million will go to community health care clinics. But Wilkes says it won't be enough — due to the number of clinics nationwide and the cost of COVID-19 patients.
“If they ever get their money at any one clinic in this huge network of 15,000 community health clinics around the country, they’re only going to end up with a tiny fraction of their actual losses.”
Due to lacking funds, he expects clinics to continue having a tough time getting personal protective equipment and the technology to handle an influx of new telemedicine visits.
Medicine goes virtual
Wilkes says that since the onset of the COVID-19, these centers have seen a 20-35% drop in routine in-person visits.
Many patients have shifted to a telemedicine model of care, which is often conducted via phone or video call.
However, lower-income communities might not have the necessary technology.
“They often don't have fancy phones, and they don't have the minutes or the data plans. … So things might move a little bit more slowly for that population.”
But in general, Wilkes says this shift to virtual medical care might stick around.
“We're also going to see new patterns of practice. ... For [a] routine visit, we've discovered that there's no longer a need to take half a day off from work, find a babysitter, drive to the clinic, pay for parking. … The world is changing, and it's changing quickly.”