Charter Oak Health Center, a federally qualified health center in Hartford's Frog Hollow neighborhood. Charter Oak Health Center

For more than 417,000 Connecticut residents, or 11% of our state’s total population, their health care needs are met by a community health center (also known as Federally Qualified Health Centers, or FQHCs). With more than 250 locations in Connecticut, every corner of the state is served by one of these health centers, and served well.

Health centers are vital to our health care safety net and we serve everyone who comes through our doors, regardless of their ability to pay. We offer primary care, dental care, behavioral health care, and many more services to help hundreds of thousands of Connecticut residents get and stay healthy.

We operate with a high level of efficiency which is dramatically less expensive than a trip to an emergency room or even an urgent care center. Inside our centers, patients get to know their doctors and medical professionals and receive a personalized, trusted level of care. Everyone has a right to a doctor and/or medical professional of their choosing, and at community health centers, they are at the ready at all times.

Connecticut’s community health centers, as crucial healthcare safety net providers, are in danger. Due to budget cuts, post-pandemic workforce strains, rising energy costs and declines in key revenue sources, we are experiencing tens of millions of dollars in budget shortfalls. This means there is a very real danger that some of Connecticut’s critically important community health centers will have to curtail our services, reduce hours, or lay off staff if relief isn’t found.

[RELATED: CT mulls Medicaid reimbursement for community health workers]

Fortunately, such relief is very real and very possible. Recently, the Appropriations Committee voted on a budget making up to $32 million available for Connecticut’s community health centers. These funds will give us the vital support we need this year to remain competitive in recruiting, attracting and retaining quality healthcare providers. This funding will enable health centers to ensure that we are better able to keep all of our sites open so that we can continue to deliver quality care to all patients.

We are immensely grateful that we’ve gotten to this point, and very appreciative that members of the legislature’s Appropriations Committee have prioritized funding for our health centers at this critical time. As we prepare for the next phase of the budget-making process, we need legislative support to keep this vital funding in the budget as it moves through negotiations.

More than 250,000 of our patients are Medicaid (HUSKY) patients, and we treat more than 25% of the state’s HUSKY population for children’s healthcare. What’s more, over 65% of our patients identify as Black or Hispanic, and health centers serve many patients who come from underserved communities, who often experience conditions that are brought on or worsened by health disparities. Besides costly and already overcrowded emergency rooms, our patients don’t have many other options if they lose access to community health centers. This cannot be allowed to happen.

With only weeks to go until the end of the legislative session, it is our hope that lawmakers —many of whom know us, have been to our centers and have expressed appreciation for the role we play in keeping people healthy— will approve this funding and allow everyone to breathe a little easier. The decision shouldn’t be a difficult one, and we stand ready to once more demonstrate for them the essential role our centers play every day in Connecticut.

Nichelle A. Mullins is President and CEO of Charter Oak Health Center in Hartford and Chair of the Community Health Center Association of Connecticut Board of Directors. Katherine S. Yacavone is Interim CEO of the Community Health Center Association of Connecticut.