Federal Funding Indecision Affecting Valley Health Centers

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SAN JUAN – The future of health care for thousands of people in the Rio Grande Valley is one of several debated topics in Washington, D.C. Tuesday evening.

It's part of a spending resolution. Some clinics are making adjustments.

Federally qualified health centers help people with Medicare, Medicaid, private insurance or no insurance.

They're funded in part by federal grants whose future is yet to be decided in Washington. The consequences of indecision are being felt in the Valley.

A wrong step brought Rosa Ortiz to Nuestra Clinica del Valle.

"I was helping my daughter move and I tripped. I stepped wrong," Ortiz explains.

She hurt her knee and needed help. Ortiz is uninsured and turned to this federally qualified health center. Anyone can visit the clinic. Payment is based on income.

Thousands of people visit the 23 clinics in the Valley also funded by federal grants. Balancing the budget for CEO of Nuestra Clinica del Valle, Lucy Torres, is a balancing act.

"Approximately 45 percent of our budget is the federal grant," says Torres.

That's about $9 million. Congress left funding uncertain for clinics like these. As a result, Nuestra Clinica is on a hiring freeze.

"There are four federally-qualified health center systems (in District 34). They employ 1,200 people and serve over 100,000 patients," explained Valley Congressman Filemon Vela.

If it stops, changes to clinics will directly affect patients.

"We would have to re-evaluate the services that we provide. We would have to look at the locations that we have," says Torres.

A decision on the future of the clinic's funding is expected Thursday. Ortiz is looking forward to her personal future.

"As soon as I get my ability to walk, I'm back to the cafeteria (where she works)," she said.

She's got two kids at home she's supporting on her single-parent budget.

Vela says the House of Representatives voted and passed the fifth continuing resolution Tuesday evening. It goes to the Senate next.

Vela expects it will be altered, sent back to the House and again to the Senate before going to the president's desk.

The measure is expected to cover funding for these centers for the next two years.

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