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Safety-Net Health Centers Tapped to Deliver COVID-19 Vaccines

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Colorado's 20 community health centers are the state's largest primary-care network, serving more than one in seven Coloradans regardless of their ability to pay. (Fernando Zhiminaicela/Pixabay)
Colorado's 20 community health centers are the state's largest primary-care network, serving more than one in seven Coloradans regardless of their ability to pay. (Fernando Zhiminaicela/Pixabay)
January 13, 2021

DENVER - Colorado's community health centers are shifting gears to deliver COVID-19 vaccines after Gov. Jared Polis called on the safety-net providers to deliver 20% of the state's vaccine supply for people age 70 and older.

Polly Anderson, vice president for financing and strategy at the Colorado Community Health Network, said the centers are uniquely positioned to serve some of the state's most at-risk populations, including Hispanic, Latino and Black communities.

"They're also more likely to have multiple chronic conditions as a result of living conditions, adequate diet and other stressors," she said, "and so health centers are really key to reaching deep into our state to ensure that those folks are not left out of vaccination efforts."

Anderson said she's hopeful that the centers will be eligible to tap funding from the latest relief package passed by Congress. The omnibus spending bill includes some operational money for the next three years, but community health centers were not specifically granted requests for testing, vaccination programs and other emergency funding.

A new report showed how community health centers have responded to the pandemic by pivoting to telehealth, dispatching mobile clinics to serve people who are homeless, and ramping up testing.

Report co-author Jessica Sharac, a research scientist at George Washington University, said the extra effort has taken a toll.

"With so many schools being closed, we heard health center staff getting a lot of their staff members who had to quit," she said, "because their kids were at home and they were doing virtual learning, and they couldn't be in two places at the same time."

Anderson said federal assistance helped keep the centers operating - and with a surge in cases showing no signs of slowing, more help will be needed.

"The PPP has been essential in helping Colorado businesses and businesses around the country keep individuals on the payroll, keep the doors open and, in the case of health centers, keep patients served," she said, "but not all health centers were eligible for that."

Disclosure: Colorado Community Health Network contributes to our fund for reporting on Health Issues, Poverty Issues, Smoking Prevention, Social Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Eric Galatas, Public News Service - CO