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New Ken health clinic officials tell Doyle federal funding is critical

Matthew Medsger
| Thursday, Aug. 17, 2017, 9:30 p.m.
Raji Jayakrishnan, executive director of the Community Health Clinic in New Kensington speaks with U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle during his visit to the Fourth Avenue facility. Allegheny Valley Hospital President William Englert is seated in the foreground. Thursday, Aug. 17, 2017.
Louis B. Ruediger | Tribune-Review
Raji Jayakrishnan, executive director of the Community Health Clinic in New Kensington speaks with U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle during his visit to the Fourth Avenue facility. Allegheny Valley Hospital President William Englert is seated in the foreground. Thursday, Aug. 17, 2017.
U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle speaks with Community Health Clinic board members and New Kensington officials while visiting the facility at 943 Fourth Ave., New Kensington. Thursday, Aug. 17, 2017.
Louis B. Ruediger | Tribune-Review
U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle speaks with Community Health Clinic board members and New Kensington officials while visiting the facility at 943 Fourth Ave., New Kensington. Thursday, Aug. 17, 2017.
New Kensington Mayor Tom Guzzo (left) speaks with U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle at the Community Health Clinic in New Kensington. Thursday, Aug. 17, 2017.
Louis B. Ruediger | Tribune-Review
New Kensington Mayor Tom Guzzo (left) speaks with U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle at the Community Health Clinic in New Kensington. Thursday, Aug. 17, 2017.
New Kensington Mayor Tom Guzzo greets U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle as he arrives to tour the Community Health Clinic, at 943 Fourth Ave. Thursday Aug. 17, 2017.
Louis B. Ruediger | Tribune-Review
New Kensington Mayor Tom Guzzo greets U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle as he arrives to tour the Community Health Clinic, at 943 Fourth Ave. Thursday Aug. 17, 2017.
U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle speaks with Community Health Clinic board members and New Kensington officials while visiting the facility at 943 Fourth Ave., New Kensington. Thursday, Aug. 17, 2017.
Louis B. Ruediger | Tribune-Review
U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle speaks with Community Health Clinic board members and New Kensington officials while visiting the facility at 943 Fourth Ave., New Kensington. Thursday, Aug. 17, 2017.

For small medical centers like New Kensington's Community Health Clinic, time is running out.

That's according to clinic Executive Director Raji Jayakrishnan, speaking Thursday before a meeting with U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, D-18th District.

Jayakrishnan said the Community Health Clinic, and the other 1,400-or-so free or low-cost health clinics across the country, are “approaching a fiscal cliff.”

According to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, community health centers served nearly 26 million Americans last year. That's about one out of every 12 people in the United States.

Those clinics are funded by the federal Health Resources and Services Administration.

The funding will run out at the end of September, Jayakrishnan said. By next March, unless Congress authorizes more money for the program, clinics nationwide will begin to close.

“If there is no funding you can't make payroll,” Jayakrishnan said. “If you can't make payroll, you can't stay open.”

Doyle assured the Community Health Clinic's board that he will do everything he can to work with his fellow representatives to find funding for community based clinics.

“This is a place where people can come regardless of their ability to pay and get high quality medical, dental and behavioral health care,” Doyle said.

Doyle said that the Affordable Care Act sends billions of dollars to clinics across the country to serve “especially under-served areas.” But that the authorization to continue the funding expires at the end of September.

“We've only got a few weeks to get that restored,” Doyle said. “If not, we're talking about a 70 percent cut in federal dollars.”

“Which means either staff layoffs or less people getting served or both, which is completely unacceptable,” he said. “It's unfortunately been mired in this ACA politics.”

Doyle said that the centers have bipartisan support, but funding reauthorization ultimately rests with the Trump administration.

“If we could just get the president off his cellphone, maybe he could focus on the real problems that are confronting the country,” Doyle said. “It's unfortunate this eight months we've had a hard time getting things done because we haven't been able to focus on the business at hand.”

“It is so vital that we keep these little units functioning and funded,” board member Juanita Nealer told Doyle.

According to Health and Human Services, health centers across the country serve one of every three people living in poverty, one of every six living in rural areas, one of every 10 children and more than 330,000 veterans.

The New Kensington clinic has been serving residents of the Valley for more than 40 years, according to clinic board secretary Bill Hall.

Matthew Medsger is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-226-4675, mmedsger@tribweb.com, or on Twitter @matthew_medsger.

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