Swine Flu Fears Fill Community Health Centers : Shots - Health News This community health centers explainer comes from our health blogging partners over at Kaiser Health News.
NPR logo Swine Flu Fears Fill Community Health Centers

Swine Flu Fears Fill Community Health Centers

This community health centers explainer comes from our health blogging partners over at Kaiser Health News.

A masked child walks to a community health center in Wisconsin. Jeffrey Phelps/AP/Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel hide caption

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Jeffrey Phelps/AP/Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

by Andrew Villegas/KHN

Swine flu -- or the fear of it -- is filling waiting rooms of community health centers, and in many cases, testing is taking place in the parking lot.

Amy Simmons, spokeswoman for the National Association of Community Health Centers, said the threat of the new H1N1 virus has brought a surplus of people into the centers to seek care for what they think may be this illness.

Simmons said six people around the U.S. have been diagnosed and treated for swine flu at a CHC, and more are expected.

What makes CHCs so central in the current outbreak is that they are often the first line of care for the 18 million Americans who are uninsured or do not have enough insurance coverage. Even before swine flu, those numbers were growing due to the economic downturn.

As officials direct people who think they may have swine flu to avoid hospitals if the condition is not life-threatening, many are showing up at the centers.

Connecticut Governor M. Jodi Rell last week urged people who think they have the virus to go to their primary care provider or a CHC. The governor said people should only seek urgent care in case of emergency.

Such messages add to the CHC challenge, says Simmons. As it stands now, some centers aren't even allowing patients inside. To lessen the risk of exposure, they're testing people for the virus in their cars.

Hoping For Federal Assistance

CHCs are pinning their hopes on wrangling part of a $2 billion infusion of federal stimulus money to help offset the additional demands. That bill is awaiting action in the House.
"It couldn't have come at a more critical time," Simmons said.

NACHC's Simmons notes that some flu antivirals still cost $30-$40 per prescription at Medicaid's discounted rate. For the uninsured or those on Medicaid, that's an onerous cost, she adds.

John Sawyer, NACHC's director of federal affairs, said $350 million of the $2 billion bill is geared to state and local swine flu response through the Department of Health and Human Services. Some of this funding will likely find its way to CHCs.

"What we're working to do is ensure that as much as possible of those funds get to the front lines to providers ... at centers who need it the most," Sawyer said.