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Witnessing History, with Mixed Emotions

Suzanne Lagarde ’14, CEO of New Haven-based Fair Haven Community Health Care, will attend the State of the Union Address on January 30 as Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro's sole guest—and she'll be waiting anxiously to learn the fate of the nation's community health centers.

Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro and Suzanne Lagarde ’14

 The call came late last Tuesday. Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro’s district director called to ask whether I could attend this week’s State of the Union Address as the Congresswoman’s sole guest. I’ve long been a political junky, mesmerized by the power wielded by the 535 members of Congress and, for the most part, proud of their uniquely American accomplishments. As the daughter of an immigrant who raised his two daughters to believe that this is the greatest country in the world, I have always been proud of what our country stands for. That’s why when the call came asking if I would attend this week’s State of the Union Address, I felt an odd mix of excitement and sadness. Excitement to be a part of an American tradition taking place in the history-ladened halls of our national Capitol; sadness because I knew why I was being singled out for this honor and opportunity. I am the CEO of Fair Haven Community Health Care, a community health center in New Haven that provides care to more than 18,000 low-income residents of our community. Community health centers in the U.S. are currently under siege, due to the chaotic bipartisan bickering that has come to be the hallmark of my beloved government. Congresswoman DeLauro’s choice for her guest is one way she can shine a spotlight on the plight of community health centers. 

Nationwide, community health centers care for more than 27 million people annually. That’s 1 in 10 children, 1 in 13 adults. In Connecticut, the statistics are even more staggering, with more than 375,000 residents receiving their care from a health center in 2017. Unless Congress acts soon, Connecticut stands to lose more than $40 million  in revenue for the 16 health centers scattered throughout the state. The estimated impact on the country is staggering. According to the National Association of Community Health Centers, loss of this funding will result in 9 million patients losing access to primary and preventive care, more than 51,000 staff members (including physicians and nurses) losing their jobs, and more than 25% of health center sites in the country being forced to close their doors. For Connecticut, the estimate is that 90,000 patients will lose access to care, 530 individuals will lose their jobs, and the overall economic impact statewide in terms of lost downstream revenues is more than $91 million. Additionally, the impact on hospitals will be massive as patients will once again turn to emergency rooms for help when access to health centers is severely curtailed. 

At Fair Haven Community Health Care, we are at risk of losing $2.9 million in annual funding, 14% of our annual budget. Cornell Scott Hill Health Center, another New Haven health center, is at risk of losing $4.2 million annually. The math is simple—a loss of more than $7 million to New Haven to support the care of average- to low-income residents will be catastrophic. In Connecticut, we have already had to sustain the impact of a drastically reduced state budget with significant cuts to the Connecticut Medicaid program, school-based health centers, and dental services. The addition of huge federal cuts is unnerving. We have been living with this uncertainty since last September. For more than six months, our ability to make decisions regarding programs and growth has been paralyzed by the uncertainty of whether we will have the funds to survive, let alone expand. 

So, I will go to Washington on January 30.  I will sit in the hallowed halls of the Capitol as history unfolds before my eyes. But I won’t be excited. I will be sad as I contemplate whether the men and women sitting below me in the same chamber will do what is right by my 18,000 patients and by the 27 million patients seeking care from health centers throughout the country. I will hope that I can connect with one or two legislators and try to convince them of the critical importance of moving this legislation to a vote. And I will think of my immigrant father and hope that his belief in a compassionate and just America will be sustained. 

This commentary originally appeared in CT Mirror/CT Viewpoints.