The holidays came early in Washington D.C. as legislators in the House voted 361 to 61 to approve $1.63 billion in funding for community health centers for 2019. The Senate previously passed the bill 93 to 7.

The bipartisan support will be combined with $4 billion authorized earlier in the year bringing the total support to $5.6 billion.

“This is tremendous news for Community Health of South Florida, Inc. (CHI) and Health Centers throughout this county,” said Brodes H. Hartley Jr., CHI President and CEO. “Community Health Centers care for some of this nation’s most underserved communities including 13 million people living in poverty. Everyone deserves access to high-quality healthcare.”

The majority of community health center patients are uninsured or publicly insured. Health Centers like CHI are open to everyone, regardless of insurance status or ability to pay. It offers a sliding fee scale option based on a patient’s income to make healthcare affordable and obtainable. In addition, federally qualified health centers like CHI offer a comprehensive set of services such as primary care, pediatrics, OB/GYN, dental, behavioral health, urgent care, vision, pharmacy, laboratory, radiology, and more.

Marina Vacas is one of CHI’s 83,000 patients and among the country’s 28 million community health center patients. She became a CHI patient about 20 years ago. At the time she was unemployed and uninsured and had issues with her cholesterol and calcifications in her breasts.

“It was a relief, recalled Vacas. “I came here, and it was very affordable to have my mammograms or my check-ups, my blood tests, and all that.”

She said if she didn’t have CHI, she likely wouldn’t seek care and her health would suffer. Such is the case for so many patients who now benefit from the newly released federal funding.

“In this country, especially here in Miami Dade, it is very difficult,” said Vacas. “We need these centers.”

The money will help fund quality improvements, expansions, and support for behavioral health and substance abuse disorders.

“We are so very grateful to all lawmakers in both the House and Senate for their dedication and hard work on behalf of the Health Centers Program, and look forward to working with all Members in the coming year to secure long-term, stable funding that ensures the sustainability and success of health centers long into the future,” said Tom Van Coverden, President of the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC).

Photo: (Left to right) Manuel Garcia, MD., Molrine Tracey, MD., Elizabeth Philippe, MD., Saint Anthony Amofah, MD., Tamara Wright, MD., Abiona Redwood, MD., Edgard Nunez, MD.