Finding the “Next Normal”: FQHC Resilience During the COVID-19 Pandemic

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The total number of known cases of the novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, is rising exponentially across the United States. The economic toll of the pandemic is compounding, too, with more than 16.5 million Americans fling for unemployment1 by the beginning of April. Each day brings new challenges for the healthcare industry as it races to manage shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE), loss of demand for services, and the difficulty of maintaining financial stability in an uncertain world. The nation’s 1,362 Federally Qualifed Health Centers (FQHCs) are no exception. These health centers are a critical healthcare lifeline for more than 28.4 million Americans living in underserved areas of the country, the vast majority of whom are living with significant health concerns and are extremely vulnerable to economic fluctuations. They are also living in the regions where COVID-19 is hitting the job market the hardest.

Social distancing and other quarantine measures have taken a heavy toll on those who need care as well as those who provide care. For some FQHCs, previous emergencies have acted as catalysts for disaster recovery and business continuity planning. Yet for many others, the focus on day-to-day viability has limited their ability to prepare for unforeseen events. While quarantine measures are expected to exceed three months in duration in many locations, more than a third of FQHCs have only a month or less of cash on hand. Additionally, the centers located in or near the first wave of COVID-19 epicenters (such as New York, Maryland, Florida, and Washington) had approximately two weeks’ less cash available than FQHCs in non-epicenter states. Yet FQHCs are defined by their resilience, dedication to their mission, and ingenuity. Health center CEOs, CFOs, and COOs have a number of strategies in place to adapt to the situation and weather the storm.

In a series of interviews, we asked these experienced executives to reflect on this historic event and offer practical guidance as the nation tries to cope with the impacts of COVID-19 and establish the “next normal” as we enter the second phase of a long-term battle against this deadly disease.

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