WALTHAM, Mass. — A Waltham community health center says an infusion of federal dollars will help them to expand health care access. Charles River Community Health of Waltham is getting more than $4 million dollars in funding from the American Rescue Plan Act.

Representative Katherine Clark (D-MA) toured the facility Tuesday, which sees families who primarily live at or below the federal poverty level or $53,000 a year for a family of four.

The center says some of the money will help them upgrade dental equipment, exam chairs and X-ray machines. Most of the money will address staffing shortages, exacerbated by the pandemic.

“One of the real success stories of the ARPA funding is the flexibility that was given so that we could do both things, get that extra pay, get some of those extra positions to relieve some of the burnout and also to make sure we allowed for the type of equipment like the dental chairs, a quarter of a million dollars that can’t fit into a regular budget,” said Rep. Clark. “We need to make sure that we understand the pivotal role of community health centers in really making sure that we really making sure that we have universal access.”

“There’s been the ‘great resignation’ and that certainly has impacted health care significantly. And folks are tired and burnt out after two years of this {pandemic}, said Elizabeth Browne, CEO of Charles River Community Health. It’s a role she’s held for 13 years.

“I think it comes back to the mission and finding people who really care about the communities we serve and the work that we do,” she said.

Browne added being able to raise pay would also help recruit and retain community health care workers.

Michael Curry, CEO of the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers agreed, adding losing workers to hospitals that can pay more has been a long-time battle in community health. And he says that impacts an already vulnerable community.

“We were already at a deficit before, a health equity deficit, before the pandemic with patients, who have higher rates of morbidity, of mortality whether it’s their eye care, oral care, …there’s an urgency to this work and we need the workforce to do it,” Curry said.

Michael Curry praised programs, like a loan repayment program, other initiatives to help grow the pipeline into community health centers to create “the workforce of today and tomorrow”.

Charles River Community Health says it served 13,877 patients in 2021.

Overall, ARPA has earmarked $7 billion for community health centers nationwide.

Original story HERE