Health centers receive $6.5M to expand testing

Federal funding could help Tulare County reach testing benchmark to reopen segments of the local economy

TULARE COUNTY – Federally funded health centers may be the key to reopening the local economy. Formally called federally qualified health centers (FQHC), clinics like Family HealthCare Network (FHCN) receive federal funding to provide comprehensive services to underserved populations, including those on Medicare.

Just last week, local health centers were among 179 across the state to receive a portion of $97 million to expand testing in California. Daily testing capacity is one of the primary metrics the state has ordered county governments to use to determine if they can reopen certain sectors of the local economy.

Tulare County Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA) has stated its labs have the ability to test about 450 people per day, about two thirds of the 720 needed to enter stage 2 of the Governor’s four-step process to reopening all California businesses. Four local FQHCs received a combined $6.5 million in federal funding to help reach that goal. FHCN received the largest allotment, $3.3 million, followed by Omni Family Health ($2 million), Aria Community Health Center ($593,000) and Altura Centers for Health ($514,000). California health centers are already providing more than 100,000 weekly COVID-19 tests in their local communities. Nearly 88 percent of HRSA-funded health centers report testing patients, with more than 65 percent offering walk-up or drive-up testing.

The funding is from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), through the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), as part of the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act, signed into law by President Trump on April 24. The legislation provides funding for small businesses and individuals financially affected by COVID-19, additional funding for hospitals and healthcare providers, and increased testing capabilities to help track the spread and impact of the coronavirus.

“This new funding secured by President Trump will expand the work health centers are doing to test Americans for COVID-19,” said HHS Secretary Alex Azar. “Widespread testing is a critical step in reopening America, and health centers are vital to making testing easily accessible, especially for underserved and minority populations. Further, because health centers can help notify contacts of patients who test positive, they will continue playing an important role in cooperating with state and local public health departments.”

HRSA-funded health centers will use this funding to expand the range of testing and testing-related activities to best address the needs of their local communities, including the purchase of personal protective equipment; training for staff, outreach, procurement and administration of tests; laboratory services; notifying identified contacts of infected health center patients of their exposure to COVID-19; and the expansion of walk-up or drive-up testing capabilities.

“Health centers are a first line of defense, as they are testing for coronavirus and delivering high-quality primary care to our nation’s most vulnerable populations.” said HRSA Administrator Tom Engels. “In the fight against COVID-19, we must marshal all of our resources to keep Americans healthy and care for those who become ill.”

Last week’s announcement builds upon the $1.42 billion HRSA has awarded to health centers to address COVID-19, which will bring the Trump Administration’s total COVID-19 investment in health centers to nearly $2 billion.

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