By Callie Bost
Carrboro Commons Co-Editor
Carrboro Community Health Center on Lloyd Street has an important role in the community by serving underprivileged patients. But proposed federal budget cuts and an increasing number of patients due to the economy has forced the center to send patients to other health centers, said Kat McDougal, care manager for the center.
Debra Markley, project coordinator for Piedmont Health Services, said that $600 million has already been cut from federal community health center funding. This funding is part of the Affordable Care Act.
To make matters worse, McDougal said the center is at capacity, which means the providers — doctors and medical assistants — cannot accept any new patients without sacrificing the quality of health care provided.
“There have been statistics that have shown if a provider gets over a certain number of patients that they are following long-term, the quality of care goes down,” said McDougal. “We like to keep it at a certain level so that we do not boost them past that capacity level so we don’t decrease that quality of care.”
The center is currently sending new patients to other community health centers in Piedmont Health Services’ network for treatment.
McDougal said the number of patients the center serves depends on the number of providers in the office and the exam rooms available.
“(The budget cuts) could be a huge cut in terms of serving the patients,” McDougal said. “What we’re going to find is if this is cut, we’ll starting seeing a huge increase in patients having to go to the emergency room for non-emergency issues because they have nowhere else to go.”
McDougal also said the center cannot add more building space. The center cannot build another story on the building because of zoning ordinances. Piedmont Health Services’ corporate office, which is housed beside the center, can be expanded upon but there are no concrete plans to do so.
Piedmont Health Services is a non-profit organization that manages seven community health centers in the Piedmont, including Carrboro Community Health Center. These centers are classified as federally-qualified health centers by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Jenn Cunningham, program development assistant for Piedmont Health Services, said that approximately 98 percent of Piedmont Health Services’ patients live below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. Out of the 39,000 patients Piedmont Health Services assisted in 2010, 23,000 patients were uninsured.
McDougal said the economic recession has led to more uninsured patients searching for affordable health care.
“We have a lot of patients who are out of work right now with lost insurance,” McDougal said. “A lot of issues come with that — not being able to pay bills, not being able to pay the light bill much less your medical bill.”
Federally-qualified health centers provide health service to anyone — insured, uninsured, or with Medicare or Medicaid. Patients pay for services based on a sliding fee scale adjusted to their income and size of family.
Carrboro Community Health Center caters to these uninsured patients, McDougal said. As care manager, McDougal helps patients create health plans that are appropriate for their needs.
“We’re kind of that segue between the provider and the patient to figure out a good care plan for them,” McDougal said. “If they’re dealing with a ton of economic barriers and aren’t able to afford their insulin, that’s where we come in.”
Carrboro Community Health Center provides comprehensive care — an array of basic health services to its patients. McDougal said the center administers medical, pharmaceutical, dental and nutritional services as well as social counseling and care management — and all at an affordable price. Patients pay as little as a $25 co-pay per visit and $4 for generic medications through the pharmacy. Medicaid patients do not have a co-pay.
The center also hosts the SHAC (Student Health Action Coalition) Clinic, a free health clinic run by student volunteers in eight UNC professional schools. The SHAC Clinic is open to patients every Wednesday night.
McDougal said that the center also accommodates native Spanish speakers. McDougal said thirteen percent of Carrboro’s population speaks Spanish compared to less than 1 percent of Orange County’s population. To deal with this, every provider except for one at the center is bilingual in English and Spanish. Two interpreters and two providers also speak Karen for Carrboro’s Burmese population.
McDougal said that the best way to combat budget cuts is to sign a petition on The Campaign for America’s Health Centers website or to contact representatives in Congress.