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The Rural Maine Reporting Project is made possible through the generous support of the Betterment Fund.

Maine community health centers devastated by lack of funding

Community health centers in Maine say they're devastated that funding to increase their reimbursement rates is not included in the state's supplemental budget, which has received initial approval from the Appropriations Committee.

Darcy Shargo, CEO of the Maine Primary Care Association, says rates for the state's 20 community health centers haven't been adjusted in 20 years. She says health centers were hopeful that would change at a time when the state has a considerable surplus.

"We're feeling pretty demoralized right now. Pretty exhausted already because of COVID. And now, to be facing this ongoing challenge with our rates, it's pretty overwhelming," she says.

Shargo says health centers, which provide care in underserved areas, had asked for $5 million in additional funding per year. She says without the boost in funding, community health centers will struggle to meet the pent-up demand for services, especially behavioral and dental health.

Coleen Elias, CEO of Community Clinical Services in Lewiston, says community health centers, which provide low-cost care in underserved areas, must accept patients regardless of ability to pay.

"Community clinical services, we typically operate with a million-dollar loss every year. What this funding would do is cut our deficit in half if we were simply reimbursed how we should be by MaineCare," she says.

Elias says community health centers were among providers on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, and staff feel demoralized about the lack of investment — especially as centers see an increased demand for services, such as behavioral health and dental care.