June 14, 2022
ELMIRA – Last night the Chemung County Legislature voted to approve spending one million dollars to help bring a Federally Qualified Health Center ( FQHC ) to Chemung County.
A Federally Qualified Health Center is a health center that provides comprehensive primary and preventative health care services to areas that are deemed to be medically underserved. FQHCs operate on a sliding scale fee schedule, meaning they must offer the same services for all, but at a decreased rate for those who are uninsured. Ultimately, an FQHC provides medical care to all, regardless of their ability to pay.
Michael Pease, CEO of The Chatautauqua Center, an FQHC in Dunkirk, New York, gave a presentation to the legislature on June 6th. Pease said that Chemung County was recognized as one of several “highest need” counties across the state that do not already have an existing FQHC. He also said that there is not a single person being served by a health center other than children, who receive dental care at mobile clinics within select schools.
The Chatautauqua Center, which first opened in 2012, currently has three clinical locations throughout Chatautauqua County and serves an estimated 15,000 people annually, with plans to expand and be able to serve an additional 15,000 in the future.
Pease said that they are currently in talks with an existing organization here in Chemung County, but due to a non-disclosure agreement was currently unable to say what organization or where the new center would be located.
Federally Qualified Health Centers such as The Chatautauqua Center are required to have a Community Governing Board made up of anywhere from nine to twenty-five members. At least 51% of the board must be regular users of health care services a center provides. Pease said while they have an existing board of 11-15 members, they would want to bring on at least a couple members from this area.
By law, FQHCs are required to provide preventative health care services, as well as health screenings, OB/GYN care, immunizations, lab and radiological services and health care education to name just a few. They are also encouraged to provide additional medical care such as dental services, occupational health services, physical therapy and more, either directly or through referral to another organization. Pease noted that at The Chatautauqua Center all of these services are currently provided. Here in Chemung County, he proposed to begin providing primary care and oral health services and then expand as the need presents itself. However if an existing organization here in the community is providing a service, they will not.
“We pride ourselves on working well with community partners,” Pease said. “We don’t want to provide a service that’s already being provided by somebody else.”
Medical staffing for the FQHC would be provided in part through the National Health Service Corps as a way for healthcare providers to repay student loans. At the June 6th meeting, 7th District Legislator Christina Sonsire raised concerns about oversight for these newer providers and assuring quality care is provided. Pease said that the local organization they are working with now has “seasoned” providers already who would provide oversight. He added that at their current locations, there are eighteen primary care providers, four of which have more than twenty years of experience who provide oversight to newer practitioners.
While they are able to partner with existing hospitals and organizations, Federally Qualified Health Centers are required to operate independently.
In his presentation, Pease said that they are also required to financially self-sustaining, however help with start up costs would be necessary for any clinic. After that, there will be no costs to the county, and as is the case in Chatautauqua County, the center could very well save the county money in the long run.
Among the thirteen legislators in attendance last night, there was bi-partisan agreement that an FQHC would be beneficial to Chemung County.
“You know, I think it’s very important, and I think it’s good what we’ve done here,” said Martin Chalk, who represents the county’s 10th Legislative District. “It’s what the people in this community are dealing with, and it’s what they need.”
To learn more about The Chatautauqua Center and the services they provide there, click here.