Millie Landock, Lead Community Health Worker at Project Access New Haven, talks to a client on the phone while doing outreach to connect residents to health providers and social services, March 18, 2021. Credit: Cloe Poisson/ photo

It’s rare for organizations to ask the state for a one-time infusion of cash, but that’s exactly what Connecticut’s federally qualified community health centers are doing this year.

They need $32 million to be divided between 17 facilities to make sure services, which includes everything from behavioral health to medical and even dental, aren’t scaled back at a time of need. 

The centers, which serve more than 400,000 patients a year, serve about 61% of patients on Medicaid and according to the association that represents the centers they haven’t received the full reimbursement rate in two decades. 

Kathy Yacavone, interim CEO of the Community Health Center Association of Connecticut, said the Department of Social Services has underpaid the health centers for the Medicaid program for many years “even though the federal law is very clear.” 

She said the growing cost of the workforce, coupled with inflation and the loss of COVID funding, has “caused this perfect storm,” and the immediate need for the funding. 

Over the course of 2022, the health centers collectively lost over $90 million, according to Yacavone. 

President and CEO of Connecticut Institute for Communities in Danbury Katie Curran said they won’t be closing their doors without the funding, but they will have to look at cutting services. 

She said for example, dental is a very expensive service, so it’s one area they may look to reduce the number of patients they are able to see. 

“Do we invest in areas where we’re reimbursed closer to our costs?” Curran said. 

Sabrina Trocchi, president and CEO of the Wheeler Clinic, said dental is a perfect example because she can only afford to offer dental in Hartford and she can’t afford to bring it to Waterbury, Bristol and Plainville where there’s also a need. 

She said the other area she can’t invest in is her workforce because post-COVID the hiring of medical professionals has become increasingly competitive. 

“The impact of the inadequate rate is so much greater today than it has been in the last couple of years,” Trocchi said. “We’re working in a different environment, the health and health inflation is at a point where it’s absolutely unsustainable.” 

The funding was included in the Appropriations Committee budget, but the health centers are concerned that Gov. Ned Lamont remains skeptical of the request. 

Chris Collibee, a spokesperson for the Office of Policy and Management, acknowledged the ongoing budget negotiations and the commitment to adequate funding for the health centers.

“The administration continues to meet with legislative leaders on the upcoming budget, and ensuring an appropriate level of funding for our FQHCs is part of those conversations. It it is important to note that unlike most other Medicaid providers FQHCs are guaranteed inflationary increases. As budget conversations are ongoing it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time,” Collibee said in a statement.

Yacavone said this funding is a stop gap while they try to resolve the issues regarding Medicaid reimbursement with the Department of Social Services.

“The governor has made it known that because this $32 million request is large he’s targeting it for reduction,” Yacavone said.