SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (NEXSTAR) — Doctors and nurses who treat the uninsured and Medicaid patient populations at hundreds of community health centers across the state were running dangerously low on personal protective equipment when a new shipment replenished their supply on Thursday.
“All of our locations are running low and close to running out,” said Paula Campbell, the Health Equity and Emergency Response Coordinator for the Illinois Primary Health Care Association.
Wearing a protective mask herself, Campbell was one of several IPHCA staffers who helped package a new shipment of disposable safety gear before it was shipped off to medical professionals who provide care for under-served populations in Illinois.
The IPHCA represents 390 community health center sites across the state, including Crossing Healthcare in Decatur, Promise Healthcare in Champaign, and Central Counties Health Centers in Springfield. Combined, their facilities treat 1.4 million patients in Illinois every year.
Several of those sites have already started drive-up testing for COVID-19, including at Crossing Healthcare in Decatur. Their CEO Tanya Andricks, who also sits on IPHCA’s Board of Directors, drove to the group’s headquarters in Springfield to pick up a shipment of protective gear on Thursday morning.
“We’re doing testing in a time where the supplies are short,” Andricks said. “It’s very important that we that we have these masks to keep our staff safe.”
“Typically, our patients that we serve are uninsured or on Illinois Medicaid,” Andricks explained. “We serve everyone regardless of their ability to pay. So if you come to our doors, we’ll provide you care. We don’t turn anyone away.”
IPHCA hired Box & Go, a Springfield shipping company, to deliver the shipments to facilities scattered across the state.
Several individual clinics were struggling to secure enough supplies through the state or on their own, so the state trade association offered to serve as a central hub to distribute equipment to their members. The Illinois Department of Public Health sent a shipment last week, but those supplies have already run out as clinics burn through them at a record clip.
Donations from the Steans Family Foundation and Walder Foundation for a combined $400,000 helped the IPHCA purchase 40,000 N95 masks, 112,000 surgical masks, 1,000 boxes of gloves, 100 gallons of hand sanitizer, 1,000 gowns, and 5,000 face shields from Missouri-based Centene Corporation.
State Senator Heather Steans (D-Chicago), whose family runs the Steans Family Foundation, said in a text message, “We’re truly just trying to help all the heroes working on the front lines of this pandemic.”
“There’s a lack of PPE not only in Illinois, but throughout the country,” IPHCA President Jordan Powell said, “and our members that we represent were calling us and telling us they are in desperate need of PPE and that they couldn’t get it individually so we took it upon ourselves to find a supplier.”
Powell did not disclose exactly how much each item cost, but he said he felt confident there was no price gouging involved.
“The situation is truly a pandemic and truly an emergency,” Campbell said. “The PPE is the number one priority for our health centers and health care providers across the state.”
In addition to the health risks for doctors and nurses, the executives who operate the facilities are facing a separate crisis as more patients avoid waiting rooms in the era of social distancing.
Because these facilities rely on foot traffic and high patient volume to pay their bills, Governor Pritzker’s order to stay at home has significantly reduced their revenue. In a press release issued last month, IPHCA warned the state’s drastic safety measures could carry grave consequences for them.
“With far fewer patients to treat, the centers are not receiving the reimbursement revenue needed to pay for staff, supplies and other operating expenses,” the statement said.
The release included a study from a partner group, Capital Link, that predicted community health centers could lose up to 70 percent of their revenue over the next three month span.
“37 percent are already on the brink of closure, with less than 30 days of cash on hand,” the release said.
On Friday, the Central Counties Health Center in Jacksonville will shut down temporarily and furlough most of its staff, according to Heather Burton, President and Chief Executive Officer. She said the facility was only seeing an average of 18 patients per week since the start of the Coronavirus outbreak.
On Wednesday, the federal government sent Illinois health centers a lump sum of $51.6 million dollars to help aid them in the fight against COVID-19. Individual locations will receive between $550,000 to $4.2 million each, but can only spend the funds on Coronavirus related expenses.
Andricks stressed the importance of the role the community health centers will play in the aftermath of the pandemic.
“There’s a lot of folks now that are finding themselves uninsured or unemployed, and it’s going to be more important than ever that health centers are strong and there to provide health care to our to our communities,” she said.