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Valley News Dispatch

Budget passage allows Alle-Kiski Valley free-care health clinic to avert financial cliff

Madasyn Czebiniak
| Friday, Feb. 9, 2018, 7:48 p.m.
Community Health Clinic Executive Director Raji Jayakrishnan, shown on Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2018, in the New Kensington facility.
Louis B. Ruediger | Tribune-Review
Community Health Clinic Executive Director Raji Jayakrishnan, shown on Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2018, in the New Kensington facility.

The head of an Alle-Kiski Valley free-care health clinic is relieved that President Trump signed a $400 billion budget deal on Friday that includes funding for Community Health Centers for two years.

Passage of the stopgap budget also ended a brief federal government shutdown that occurred overnight.

Officials with Community Health Clinic, which has medical offices in New Kensington and Vandergrift that treat low-income patients, were hopeful government officials would come through, and they did.

“Health centers are funded for two years, and we are very excited and thankful,” clinic Executive Director Raji Jayakrishnan said. “Now we go back to focusing on patient care and the job at hand.”

The budget only funds the government through March 23, but includes two years of Community Health Center funding at $7 billion and an extension of the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for four years.

The health care funding comes as a welcome relief to roughly 1,400 free or low-cost health care centers across the nation that had been anxiously awaiting the fate of their funding since Sept. 30.

If it hadn't passed, every health care center in the nation — including Community Health Clinic — would have experienced a reduction of up to 70 percent in the federal funding they receive from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). The uncertainty had forced some centers to come up with contingency plans. Some were looking at closing sites, laying off employees and reducing hours and services.

Now, they won't have to.

“It's a good way to start the weekend,” said Jim Willshier, director of policy and partnership for the Pennsylvania Association of Community Health Centers. “I think everyone is very appreciative and very excited that they can just get back to focusing on the patients, not having to worry about any of this anymore..”

U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills, who represents New Kensington, previously told the Tribune-Review that health centers play a big role in the lives of many Americans and are “vital piece of the puzzle.”

In 2016, such centers served nearly 26 million Americans, or 1 in 12 people. Those numbers included 1 in 10 children, 1 in 3 people living in poverty and more than 330,000 veterans.

“If people don't have access to these community health centers, then a lot of people are going to lose their access to care,” he previously told the Trib.

Doyle could not immediately be reached for comment Friday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Madasyn Czebiniak is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-226-4702, or via Twitter @maddyczebstrib.

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