Lack Of Health Care Funding Could Have Significant Impacts On Rural Communities

Sep 28, 2017

A large portion of funding for organizations that work with health clinics in Utah is set to expire Saturday. Health center representatives are worried that a loss of funding will negatively affect rural populations like the Navajo Nation in southeastern Utah.

The Association of Utah Community Health or AUCH provides training and technical assistance for health centers. Alan Pruhs, the executive director said right now the organization is working with medically underserved populations, including low income and uninsured people in urban and rural areas.

“I think about it this way – not so much about what AUCH is facing, I want them to be thinking about what their community could be facing,” Pruhs said. “What the people in their community who may not have insurance, or a community where that health center is. The only source of care for 100 miles in any distance around them. Think of that in terms of your community, to your friends, to your loved ones who seek services and receive great quality care within those clinics. That’s what I think I want folks to recognize the most is that this is a valuable program that provides tremendous services to individuals across the state of Utah.”

A total of $5.1 billion makes up this year’s health center program funding according to Capital Link. $3.6 billion comes from mandatory funding – that will expire September 30th unless congress votes to renew the funding.

Jamie Harvey is chairman of the Board at Utah Navajo Health. He said the health centers have improved quality of life for Navajo communities.

“I know our communities value the health care services that we have now in our communities,” Harvey said. “Especially in the rural communities, they travel such long distances for health care. Now that we’re out there, for instance on Navajo Mountain and Monument Valley, it’s more accessible for everyone.”

Michael Jensen, the CEO of the Utah Navajo Health System said when patients need major medical assistance, traveling to Salt Lake City is almost impossible. He said transportation is not reliable and hotels are difficult to afford.

“So even though they have a cardiac issue, they don’t make the appointment,” Jensen said. “So we really have to provide as many programs as possible in their community to make it convenient because a lot of these folks really can’t travel. They don’t have the ability to do it, so it would have a high impact on our patients.”

There will also be an economic impact if mandatory funding for the program is not renewed. In 2013 Utah’s Health Centers contributed more than 141 million ($141,893,674) to Utah’s economy with $75.9 million in direct impact, $65.9 million indirectly.

The mandatory funding for is to expire Saturday, but Pruhs said there will be a four to five month cushion for congress to vote on renewing the funding for AUCH.