A week after leading a fight to secure strong investments in community health centers as part of the late Rep. Elijah Cummings’s Lower Drug Costs Now Act in the U.S. House, U.S. Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley decided to visit one community Health Center that has become a model for others across the nation.
On Monday Pressley toured East Boston Neighborhood Health Center’s (EBNHC) emergency department and then participated in a roundtable discussion with heads of the Health Center’s various departments.
Pressley, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) led 85 of their colleagues in sending a letter to Senate and House Leadership urging them to provide a five-year extension of the Community Health Center Fund (CHCF), the National Health Service Corps (NHSC), and the Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education (THCGME) program.
EBNHC and the other 51 Community Health Centers in Massachusetts provide life-saving, affordable, and patient-centered resources to over 300,000 children, people experiencing homelessness, immigrants and veterans.
Pressley, a longtime advocate for community-based health care programs and, member of the Congressional Community Health Centers Caucus, helped secure $1.6 billion in funding for the Health Center program–including $5 million to support school-based health centers earlier this year. EBNHC runs a school-based health center at East Boston High School for students that are most at risk of not having easy access to primary care and other health care needs.
“Less than two years ago, Congress voted overwhelmingly to extend and increase funding for these three public health programs as part of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 and Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018,” said Pressley and her colleagues in the letter. “Now that the deadline is upon us again, we must act to provide a five-year extension of the Community Health Center, Teaching Health Centers Graduate Medical Education, and National Health Service Corps programs. We urge you to provide strong funding increases over time. This will afford our health centers the predictability and stability they need to train and recruit providers, purchase equipment, expand services available to patients, and plan strategically to meet the current and future needs of patients.”
During the tour Pressley said growing up in Chicago community health-center emergency rooms was the first point of access for low-income residents and people of color. Pressley highlighted the fact that it was this first contact with health care professionals that led many to begin seeking and accessing health care on a regular basis.
EBNHC President and CEO Manny Lopes agreed and told Pressley that much of Eastie’s Latino population discover the Health Center through the emergency room.
“But once we get them through our doors after an emergency room visit we can put them in contact with a primary care physician and other health care services that we provide,” said Lopes. “So we want to make sure after that emergency room visit that there in follow up care and continuing care for those patients. We do a lot of outreach in the community because ultimately we don’t want that first contact to be an emergency room visit. We want residents to enroll as patients early so we can prevent situations that land people in the emergency room.”
Pressley said community health centers like EBNHC deserve to have permanent funding.
“I appreciate what you all do,” said Pressley Monday. “If you go from Cambridge the Roxbury the life expectancy drops by 30 years and that is something that can be prevented through quality health care provided by places like EBNHC. So I am very passionate for the work you all do. You are over utilized and, in my opinion, under funded. So to be able to create so many resources with limited resources is truly inspiring. EBNHC is truly the heart beat of East Boston so I just wanted to stop by and thank everyone for the work they do each and every day here.”