Uncertainty of federal funds has Promise Healthcare facing 10% shortfall

Uncertainty of federal funds has Promise Healthcare facing 10% shortfall

CHAMPAIGN — With the continuation of a major federal funding source for community health centers still uncertain, Champaign-based Promise Healthcare faces a potential loss of 10 percent of the money funding its annual budget.

The parent organization of Frances Nelson Health Center and SmileHealthy dental center in Champaign, Promise Healthcare is among more than 1,400 health center organizations across the United States that care for low-income and uninsured people with the help of the federal Community Health Center program funding.

Initially launched in 2010, the Community Health Center program provides 70 percent of federal grant funding for community health centers such as Promise Healthcare.

Authorization for that program ended with the last fiscal year Sept. 30, but payments to community health providers have continued on a temporary basis while the longer term has remained uncertain.

Community Health Center funding is about 10 percent of Promise Health Center's current budget, so that organization is less dependent on federal money than some others are, according to Promise Healthcare Executive Director Nancy Greenwalt.

"I've worked hard at a diverse funding base," she said. "For many, the federal grant is a larger share of the budget."

Still, if the funding isn't continued, Promise Healthcare stands to take an annual $470,000 hit, Greenwalt said.

That money helps pay for services for which the medical and dental clinics can't bill, for example, medication assistance and helping people in the community who are eligible for Medicaid coverage get enrolled, Greenwalt said.

This federal money could also help Promise Healthcare handle an expansion — both in building size and providers — its leaders hope to eventually take on for the dental center, she said.

With demand continuing to be high among people who can't afford private-practice dentists, the SmileHealthy dental center has been able to offer appointments only to Promise Healthcare's existing patients and people suffering dental emergencies such as pain and swelling.

Greenwalt said she's optimistic about the Community Health Center funding being continued.

"It's not that it's a political issue. I think it's getting caught up in the budgeting process," she said.

Promise Healthcare offers sliding scale discounts on its medical and dental services to patients at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. Some patients pay as little as $10 for a visit.

Overall, Community Health Center program grants are overall the second-largest source of revenue behind Medicaid for health centers, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The program funding would be continued for two years under the temporary spending bill set for a vote in the house later Tuesday.