Virginia Garcia school-based clinic at risk without congressional action
Healthcare officials are considering options should Hillsboro's only school-based health clinic be forced to close next year due to lack of funding.
Opened in 2013, the health center at Century High School provides primary health care, mental health and dental services to children living within the Hillsboro School District. The clinic is operated through federal funds, but last month Congress allowed the Children's Health Insurance Program, which provides insurance coverage to 9 million kids across the nation, to lapse. The funds are used to cover the gap for uninsured kids at Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center, which operates the school-based clinic.
According to a government report, Oregon and 26 other states would run out of CHIP funding by March 2018 if the program is not renewed, forcing health care providers across the state to consider their options.
Virginia Garcia Memorial Foundation Executive Director Serena Cruz said on Friday that closure is a last resort, but it is in the cards.
"We want to stay open," she said. "We know that our demand isn't going to decline because we don't have funds to support the patients. Our mission, as an organization, is to serve folks regardless of their ability to pay, so we're going to figure out how to maximise what we do for our community."
Cruz said Virginia Garcia could decide to tweak the model at Century High School, reduce hours or close the small clinic. Virginia Garcia operates six school-based clinics in Washington and Yamhill counties, where the school district provides the building and pays utilities. Virginia pays for staffing.
Cruz said that the clinic provides care to hundreds of patients each year. So far this school year, Cruz said, the clinic has had 1,500 visits.
A group of providers, students and healthcare officials met with U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici on Oct. 27 and provided both a positive view of the clinic's services and a grim outlook on a future with less funding.
Century High senior Jenny Nguyen, a member of the clinic's advisory council, said the clinic is a valuable resource — especially given its location adjacent to the school building.
"I think it's a support system for all the students," she said. "If you have health concerns of you want to talk about something, they're always here for support."
About 20 percent of Virginia Garcia patients don't have insurance. Prior to the Affordable Care Act, which aimed to cut down on uninsured individuals, 40 percent of patients were uninsured, Cruz said.
That percentage has been funded by a federal grant for community health centers and CHIP coverage, but both have expired, Cruz said. Oregon's Cover All Kids law extends Medicaid coverage to undocumented children beginning Jan. 1, 2018, but there's still likely to be a gap between those who qualify for Medicaid and those who can afford to purchase insurance, Cruz said.
Cruz said she hopes to see Cover All Kids phased in on time, but there's a lot of uncertainty in the coming months for Virginia Garcia. Permanently losing CHIP coverage could be a big blow.
"Until we see the impacts, I don't know what that looks like," she said.
Tera Roberts, a nurse practitioner at the center, said the clinic offers low-income families access to care they couldn't otherwise receive.
In one instance, Roberts said, a mother brought two kids in. One received a dental screening — the only screening they'd ever had — while the other received vaccines. Then they switched places, allowing the kids to knock out four appointments in one visit.
Bonamici said re-authorizing the CHIP program will be one of her priorities moving forward, but she expects pushback from some lawmakers reluctant to pay for an extension.
"We need to set aside our differences," she said. "There has been bipartisan support in the past, and I hope we can get it done."