State budget needs to do more for health care, advocates say

While health care is rightfully an issue of national relevance, the manner in which that care is funded and delivered is a much more local issue, with individual states making important budget decisions that impact how and where their residents can receive care.

Here in Connecticut, more than 417,000 of our residents — or about 11 percent of our state’s total population — have their health care needs met by a community health center, commonly known as a federally qualified health center, or FQHC. With more than 250 locations across Connecticut, every corner of our state is served by one of these health centers, and served well. They provide care for Connecticut residents suffering from mental health disorders, substance abuse, developmental disabilities, homelessness, domestic violence and more.

Unfortunately, in a budget proposal from the Connecticut Legislature’s Appropriations Committee, there is not nearly enough funding to support community health centers working to care for some of the most vulnerable populations in our state. Taking recent drastic inflation levels into account, this results in a major cut in funding for community providers, as their expenses skyrocket through no fault of their own but public funding fails to keep up. Offsetting these rising costs in order to adequately meet the needs of providers would require a 9 percent state funding increase in 2024 and a 7 percent increase in 2025, with indexing in order to offset the last two years of inflation.

To better understand the very real need of community providers and their patients, I want to share the scope of our work and experience at InterCommunity, Inc., where I am proud to serve as president and chief executive officer.

InterCommunity is a nonprofit community health center that provides primary care, mental health care, and addiction recovery services to more than 10,000 individuals annually in Hartford, East Hartford and South Windsor. We pride ourselves in our commitment to equity and inclusion, and we strive to advance health outcomes that ensure everyone is treated within a respectful and supportive health care system.

In recent years, InterCommunity has seen a critical and increased need for behavioral health and addiction recovery services in Hartford and its surrounding areas. As a longtime care provider and partner to the city and region, we understand the true shape and scope of this problem, because we work directly with Hartford area patients each and everyday offering cost-effective, lifesaving addiction recovery services to people from all walks of life. In short, there has never been a greater need in our state’s history for these services, but providing them means they need to be properly funded.

Like other nonprofit providers, for years we have been on the front lines of the raging opioid epidemic, the worst drug epidemic in modern American history. Throughout the pandemic, our doors stayed open at our detoxification center and residential drug and alcohol treatment programs. Our staff served thousands of individuals suffering from addiction to opioids, and we continue to offer comprehensive addiction recovery treatment to anyone who requests it, regardless of their insurance status or ability to pay. We have done this despite years of chronic underfunding because the people in our community hit hardest by the opioid epidemic deserve no less.

Now, overdose deaths continue to rise in 2023, along with a steep increase in mental health disorders, suicidal ideation, and suicide attempts in children and adults. Increasing funding to meet these needs would allow us to expand our resources within our facilities, so that we can offer more integrated primary care and behavioral health care clinic for residents in the North End of Hartford and beyond. It will mean better access to safe, secure, high quality services for more patients, including those who are low-income, underinsured, or uninsured.

The current budget proposals from the governor and the legislature fall well short of that need. They would be devastating to organizations like InterCommunity, and to other providers across Connecticut.

As the end of the legislative session soon approaches, it is our hope that lawmakers — many of whom have visited our campus and clearly understand the important work of community providers — will make the important funding changes in the state budget to support Connecticut patients.

Kim Beauregard is president and CEO of InterCommunity, Inc.

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