The Florida Association of Community Health Centers (FACHC) is working to provide innovative solutions to the state’s healthcare workforce challenges.
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FACHC President and CEO Jonathan Chapman took on his new role on Dec. 1st, 2022, as successor to the recently retired Andrew Behrman. Since then, he has identified some important workforce initiatives that could help build capacity at the community health centers FACHC represents with help from the association’s internal workforce task force.
“The association’s job is to take advantage of the large number of health centers across the state, and find common paths and ways to provide assistance,” Chapman said. “We have peer-to-peer learning, roundtables, and workgroups. Florida has a robust list of roundtables in order to hear from health centers on what opportunities there may be. We can say, ‘Here are the resources that are available to you.’”
Community health centers provide affordable medical, behavioral health, and dental care to patients in underserved areas. Chapman said some are attempting to supplement their staff by operating their own training academies, partnering with community colleges, and implementing job-shadowing programs at high schools.
“Some have rural residency programs,” Chapman added. “If you are exposed to a rural facility early, you’re more likely to try and pursue that as a career path. I view the association as creating ambassadors, and as they go forward, that expands our reach and influence. So it’s not just training a workforce for community centers, but the healthcare industry as a whole.”
FACHC is also monitoring legislation that could help the workforce. Chapman supports Sen. Marco Rubio’s Strengthening America’s Health Care Readiness Act, which would invest in National Health Service Corps, Nurse Corps, and National Disaster Medical System programs to bolster health emergency surge capacity and restore the pipeline of physicians, nurses, and other health professionals that will address existing health workforce shortages throughout the country.
“If you agree to serve in a community health center, [under this bill] there’s a program to help you pay back medical debt,” Chapman said.
The legislation would entice students from diverse backgrounds into primary health careers in underserved communities by providing scholarship and loan repayment funding for tens of thousands of clinicians in exchange for a service commitment in areas with a shortage of providers.
FACHC represents 54 community health center organizations in 800 locations, which treated 1.8 million patients last year (70% were uninsured or on Medicaid, and 87% were living below the poverty line).
“Out of those patients, 70,000 were deemed homeless, and almost 300,000 have an affiliation with public housing,” Chapman said. “We saw about 40,000 agricultural workers last year. We really try to [address] the social determinants of health with our services.”
FACHC will also help patients who need assistance with Medicaid redeterminations, as the public health emergency’s (PHE) continuous coverage provision is set to end on March 31st. Florida saw a significant increase in the number of individuals and families on Medicaid during the PHE. In March 2020, there were 3.8 million enrollees. In November 2022, there were 5.5 million enrollees, according to the Department of Children and Families.
“We’ve seen the Medicaid rolls grow, and now we’re going to go through this enrollment update period,” Chapman said. “Now we have to play catch-up for three years, and 1.7 million in Florida will be impacted. Community centers see everyone, regardless of their ability to pay, so that’s about 70% of your patients who could fall off the rolls and end up at our doorstep. So we’re working to get them re-enrolled because we are a safety net. Redeterminations will be a process we’re heavily involved in.”