Comment: State mends a safety net that saved many in pandemic

Funding and more will help replenish the community health centers many relied on the past two years.

By June Robinson and Joe Vessey / For The Herald

The landmark investments made this legislative session to Washington state’s health care system are akin to providing critical life support to a patient.

After two years of pandemic response, along with providing continued essential primary and behavioral health services, our community health centers in Snohomish County and across the state needed significant support. The Legislature acted with meaningful policies and investments that will breathe life back into these community resources.

Just as our health care system was there for our communities throughout the pandemic, state leaders were there to shore up these safety-net providers.

The state Senate led efforts to fix problems with current health center payment models that were unintentionally penalizing community health centers for their services during the pandemic. Without these funding changes, community health centers would have experienced huge payment shortages or be required to return funding; a far cry from rewarding them for their accomplishments during this crisis.

The Legislature further supported the health and wellness of Washingtonians by expanding health coverage to all uninsured adults who are below 138 percent of the federal poverty level, regardless of immigration status; addressing dental care shortages for low-income patients by funding new community health dental clinics; increasing reimbursement for children’s dental care; and making investments to health care workforce development.

The challenges our health care safety net has faced over the past two years have been extensive. Health centers like Community Health Center of Snohomish County have provided community-wide public health response, including drive-through coronavirus testing, vaccine education and outreach, and vaccination clinics, with a priority of reaching the most underserved populations in our communities.

Community members continually relied on our community health centers. When the public sought testing during a surge of covid-19 in the fall of 2020, Community Health Center of Snohomish County stepped up and nearly doubled the number of tests typically conducted to meet the need.

We rely on our primary health care providers and health centers to continue to stand up to current and future challenges in our communities to ensure that our most vulnerable populations receive the care they need. This session the Legislature gave our health care system the recognition and support it deserves. These investments reflect our belief that our community isn’t a healthy community unless we are all healthy; and that our community health centers are a critical linchpin to the health and vitality of our state.

Joe Vessey has over 20 years of experience in healthcare leadership and finance and has served as chief executive of Community Health Center of Snohomish County since 2019. Community Health Center of Snohomish County provides primary care, dental care, and behavioral health to 70,000 people annually.

State Sen. June Robinson, D-Everett, represents the 38th Legislative District. She serves as the vice chair of the Ways and Means Committee and is a member of the Health and Long Term Care Committee and the Labor, Commerce and Tribal Affairs Committee.

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