Open forum: Frederiksted Health Center Asks Public to Recognize Importance of Clinics

National Health Center Week is August 7-13. (Submitted chart)

National Health Center Week 2022 is held from Aug. 7 – 13), and the Frederiksted Health Center invites the public to support it by celebrating the center’s mission and accomplishments.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Community Health Centers (CHCs) have been key to-ensuring everyone can access affordable, quality healthcare, during and beyond the pandemic. Frederiksted Health Care Inc. (FHC) is locally operated, and 51 percent of the board of directors are patients, yet, it is part of a national network serving nearly 29 million people throughout the United States. Community health centers (CHC), like FHC, save American taxpayers $24 billion a year in health care costs by preventing and managing chronic diseases.

They are not ordinary medical clinics; they are also problem-solvers that reach beyond the exam room to care for the whole person by providing access to necessities like food, clothing and housing resources.

FHC cares for everyone, regardless of insurance status or ability to pay. As unemployment rises and more Americans lose their employee-sponsored health care, Community Health Centers will be the key to keeping America healthy.

Frederiksted Health Care serves patients in Frederiksted, Christiansted and Kingshill and is the only public facility that offers dental services, catering to an estimated 16,000 people each year.

FHC current facilities simply do not have the capacity to serve all these residents. FHC Dental Division has approximately 36,000 visits a year with less than 20 chairs.

On St. Croix there is no freedom of choice with the V.I. Medicaid system, so someone who has Medicaid does not have the freedom to walk into a private office and receive services. They have to acquire services at a public health facility.

The Lena Schulterbrandt Health Center location, which is on schedule to open this summer, will include three fully-equipped dental operatories and a panoramic X-ray machine, bringing much needed care to that portion of the island.

The community health center will also upgrade its dental clinic at Ingeborg Nesbitt and would have added a new dental operatory by the end of the year, bringing total number of dental operatories on St. Croix to three.

In addition, 88 percent of the clinic’s patients are Afro-Caribbean/African American people — a high number of whom present with chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes and asthma that require complex treatment plans.

In 2021, FHC provided care to 9,485 unduplicated individuals in 35,195 encounters. Ninety-three percent of these patients had income below the 100 percent of federal poverty guidelines. For a single individual, this was less than $13,000 per year – about $1,100 a month to cover food and housing and clothes and transportation and medicine and so on.

Within its patient population, there were several subpopulations of individuals termed as being even more vulnerable, including 84 individuals who are being treated for HIV/AIDS and 121 individuals who are chronically homeless.

Some of these patients have not sought medical care since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the clinic is concerned that they may be very sick. In the past two years, FHC lost 2,000 patients that they believe just have not come out for care. Due to COVID, a lot of people got caught up with everything else except their health care. FHC is diligently trying to contact these patients and bring them back into care.

The vast majority of patients at Frederiksted Health Care are underserved by the traditional health care system. The center gives discounts to individuals with income at or below $25,000 a year based on their ability to pay for care.  A needs assessment conducted by the clinic revealed that there are over 12,000 low-income individuals without access to primary services on St. Croix.

According to the Health Resources and Services Administration, more than 60 percent of individuals on the western end of St. Croix live below 200 percent of federal poverty guidelines and more than 50 percent of individuals on the eastern end of St. Croix live below 200 percent of federal poverty guidelines.

In order to survive and thrive well beyond the pandemic, Congress must pass emergency and long-term funding for Community Health Centers like Frederiksted Health Care.

Frederiksted Health Care Inc., St. Croix

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