More than $4 million in federal funds is coming to community health centers in St. Louis though the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES) Act.
Of the more than $27 million that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is awarding to 29 health centers in Missouri, Affinia Healthcare will receive $1,709,675; Betty Jean Kerr People’s Health Centers will receive $1,213,925; Family Care Health Centers will receive $981,245; and CareSTL Health will receive $928,445.
With the population of St. Louis County and city combined being 1.3 million people and that of Missouri being 6.1 million, the county and city have about 21% of the state’s population. Health centers serving the county and city received about 15% of this federal funding.
By comparison, Springfield – the home city of U.S. Senator Roy Blunt (R) – has a population of about 167,000, or 2.7% of the state’s population. Advocates for a Healthy Community in Springfield received $1,988,555 of this federal money, or 7.4% of the state’s share.
Why the disparity?
“The funding is based upon the 2018 UDS (Uniform Data System) numbers, which is the reporting system used by federally qualified health centers to report, among other factors, the number of uninsured patients we serve,” said Angela Clabon, CEO of CareSTL Health.
“In St. Louis city and county, we have Gateway to Better Health to assist patients who fall between the gap. Our uninsured number was reported lower because we receive funds from Regional Health Commission, which is Gateway to Better Health. Unfortunately, those individuals were not captured as uninsured. Yes, maybe they should have been, but they were not.”
Health center awardees in Missouri may use these funds to help their communities detect coronavirus; prevent, diagnose, and treat COVID-19; and maintain or increase health capacity and staffing levels to address this public health emergency. How will the regional health centers use the funds?
“We intend to use those funds to purchase much needed (and hard to get) Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to ensure that we protect our staff appropriately,” said Dwayne Butler, CEO of Betty Jean Kerr People's Health Centers.
“Also, we hope to provide some relief to our incredible employees with a return to full, regular pay and any other appropriate financial support. Finally, the support will help us continue to adjust to this rapidly changing operating environment to ensure that we remain available to serve our communities' health care needs.”
At CareSTL Health, Clabon said, “The funding will be used to continue serving our patients but also to prevent layoffs and retain our employees. We understand, given the pandemic, services are dipping but the funding will help us keep our employees on the payroll.”
One very important service is “dipping” only for want of supplies.
“The biggest issue we are dealing with right now is having enough testing kits to meet the patient demand for testing,” Clabon said on April 8. “Today alone we tested 87 people. We have 87 people scheduled for tomorrow. This is in both locations. We are not testing Friday-Good Friday because we do not have enough testing kits. Realistically, given the volume of calls we are receiving we could probably test 100 people a day.”
Clabon said that the influx of federal funds will help keep the doors open, but they need test kits for the people who walk in those doors.
“We are not going to slow down our testing because it is needed,” Clabon said. “I am very upset that all of the COVID-19 deaths in the city of St. Louis have been African Americans. That alone speaks to the need for testing in North St. Louis where our health centers are located. Our community has to be tested and we need testing kits now!”
For CareSTL Health, call 314-367-5820 or visit https://carestlhealth.org/. For Betty Jean Kerr People's Health Centers, call 314-367-7848 or visit https://phcenters.org/. To locate the health center closest to you, visit FindAHealthCenter.HRSA.Gov