This column originally appeared in the Dorchester Reporter:
As policymakers it is our responsibility to respond to the public health challenges before us with urgency while planning the long term recovery of our city, state and nation.
Community health centers have been key to delivering an equitable public health response in the fight against COVID-19, and they will be key to delivering an equitable public health recovery for those who the system has historically left behind.
As early data revealed that COVID-19 was having a disparate impact on communities with higher rates of chronic illness and other health disparities, state elected officials and public health officials prioritized emergency funding including:
- $1.1 billion to support our healthcare system overall
- $900 million to stabilize hospitals, community health centers, nursing facilities, primary care services, behavioral health supports, long-term care services and frontline workers
Simultaneously, critical support was issued by the Federal government and soon after locally through Mayor Walsh’s Boston Resiliency Fund. While Codman, Whittier Street and East Boston community health centers led the way, Boston Resiliency fund essential resources are needed to stand up COVID-19 screening at community health centers across Boston.
To continue an equitable response to the impacts of COVID-19 on our most vulnerable communities, the Massachusetts National Guard should be authorized to conduct mobile testing in senior, low income and public housing communities, where the highest rates of chronic illness are most prevalent. This would not only increase the likelihood of an early diagnosis for those currently with barriers to being tested, but in coordination with a community health center, connect uninsured patients to a primary care provider to deliver preventive health care in the long run. An early diagnosis of COVID-19 may save a life, but preventive long term care can alter the track of slow, costly killers- chronic disease.
Although 2006 brought universal access in Massachusetts and nationally in 2009, a recent Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts study highlights that as of 2017, communities in Boston with the highest rates of chronic illness also had the highest rates of uninsured – over 15 times the community average statewide.
This is a clear indication that mistrust of an old health care system that delivered care via emergency room has persisted in many communities.
These policy changes coupled with increased federal, state and local funding to our community health centers would also ensure we deliver an equitable public health recovery by fulfilling the promise of health care reform: scaling up the system, treating patients through the preventative care model, reducing health disparities and increasing life expectancy rates.
Community health centers have been the biggest asset in delivering an equitable response to COVID-19 outbreak, but also with the proper funding, will be key to ensuring an equitable public health recovery for the over 25,000 uninsured Bostonians and almost 200,000 statewide.
The State recently announced an additional $130 million investment in our nursing homes for staff and PPE to ensure the highest level of care possible in these most vulnerable communities. In order to fulfill the promise of an equitable public health and response to COVID-19, increased funding for our community health centers must remain front and center in the Legislature, as we deliberate the upcoming FY2020 Supplemental budget.
This support will provide the resources needed to equip the brave men and women on the front lines of this public health crisis and deliver an equitable public health response and recovery for communities that have suffered from inequities for far too long.
Senator Nick Collins1st Suffolk District
Senator Collins represents the communities of South Boston, Dorchester, Mattapan and Hyde Park and serves as the Vice Chair of the Joint Committee on Public Health in the Massachusetts Legislature