Third Ward's Central Care in jeopardy due to lack of federal funding

HOUSTON – Dozens filled the lobby of the Central Care Clinic in the Third Ward fighting to keep vital federal funds flowing to the company.

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee held a news conference there, standing alongside clinic doctors, officials and dozens of patients concerned about the future of the company and its six clinics. The clinics futures are threatened by a lack of approved federal funding.

Central Care Integrated Health Services operates six clinics in areas that are under-served, including Sunnyside and Third Ward. The Third Ward location was the first federally-qualified health center in Houston, serving the community for 25 years.

Jackson-Lee spoke of how the clinic kept its doors open during many natural disasters including hurricanes Ike, Katrina and Harvey.

Jackson-Lee is asking the Department of Health and Human Services, and specifically, the Human Resources & Services Administration (HRSA), to suspend or refrain from using any agency directive or action that would lead, directly or indirectly, to the closure of any of six facilities operated by Central Care until all the outstanding issues and questions about those facilities have been resolved.

Jackson-Lee is asking for HRSA's review of the application for a crucial grant Central Care has received since 2002. The congresswoman blamed the department for the denial, saying it was ultimately the department's mistake that caused a denial in funding.

Central Care officials said the department stopped sending National Health Scholar Corps doctors to the clinics, and it was those doctors who made up a majority of the staff at little to no cost to the clinic.

"These are scholars who get their loans taken care of or scholarships. You know what this means to these clinics? It means they don't have to have two doctors they can have four to five," Jackson-Lee said.

Central Care officials said they were forced to hire a smaller staff of doctors and paid them for the 10 months it took for the department to update the company's eligibility for the National Health Scholar Corps program and get the doctors back. During that time, officials said the clinic scored an HRSA score of 89 out of 100 -- affecting its qualification for federal funding.

Attorneys said the reason for the lower score was because doctors were not available at every clinic.

Central Care is suing the government to receive what could have been $5 million in federal funds from the grant.

Patient Anahi Gonzalez said the locations of these clinic provided crucial accessibility  and quality care to low-income families in need.

"As soon as I walk through the door, you can see and feel the presence of Central Care," Gonzalez said.

The clinics served 17,000 patients in 2017 and more than 300,000 patients in its 25 years. The clinics provide medical, dental, mental help and women's services for low income families.

Attorneys said there will be a court hearing Monday.