Yesterday I had the opportunity to meet with some of the incredibly hard-working and talented staff of Centre Volunteers in Medicine. CVIM provides no-cost medical care, dental care, case management, and medication assistance to qualified uninsured individuals living or working in Centre County. Over 80% of these uninsured individuals are employed, and some work multiple jobs.
In the year ending June 30, 2017, 27 physicians, 17 nurses, 9 dentists, 7 pharmacists, 5 social workers, one nurse practitioner, one dietitian, and one physical therapist volunteered over 1,000 hours of their time, and completed over 7,700 patient visits.
Remarkably, 90 percent of CVIM’s revenue support comes from individual and corporate donations, and from private foundations. It does not receive funds from the state or from the federal government.
That model has worked remarkably well so far, but it faces several headwinds:
- Because of Congress’s decision to eliminate the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate last year and to terminate cost-sharing reduction payments, health insurance prices have risen. This has resulted in CVIM seeing an increased number of patients seeking medical care. CVIM had seen an elimination of its wait list after the ACA initially went into effect, and is currently able to accept new patients, but now it seems likely that the wait list will return.
- CVIM volunteers and staff readily treat those who come to the clinic in pain, but dental care continues to present difficulties. Right now, there is a wait list of over 1,200 people for dental care at CVIM. The federal Health Resources & Services Administration has designated all of Centre County as a Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA) for dental care; in other words, there aren’t enough dentists, given Centre County’s population. This affects everybody who needs dental care, but it also means that the dentists who are here are often so busy that they cannot devote significant time to volunteering their services to the uninsured. On top of that, dental supplies are expensive, and CVIM must raise a significant amount of money to pay those expenses.
- Likewise, there is a significant need for behavioral and mental health services. Mount Nittany Health’s Community Health Needs Assessment identified behavioral health as one of its top three priority areas. CVIM estimates that over 20% of the population who qualify for its services experience anxiety or depression. Just as with dental care providers, there are not enough mental health providers in Centre County, which makes it challenging for CVIM to provide care.
The background and challenges I’ve outlined above were shared with me by CVIM’s Cheryl White (Executive Director), Kristi Mattzela (Clinical Services Director), and Sue Forster (Development Coordinator). Please consider donating to CVIM or volunteering to help cover CVIM’s office and administrative work.
Although CVIM is focused on Centre County, my research has shown that similar issues exist across all of Pennsylvania’s 12th Congressional District. I am proud to support a Medicare-for-All system which will ensure that all Americans receive medical, dental, and vision insurance. That will not be enough to solve the shortage in providers, though; we need to provide financial incentives, including greatly expanding federal programs which offer student loan repayment and forgiveness options for providers who choose to practice in underserved rural areas.