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Budget crisis creates challenges for Chicago healthcare provider

aquino 062917SPRINGFIELD – State Sen. Omar Aquino, a Chicago Democrat, emphasized the importance of a balanced, full-year budget in bringing stability and certainty to community healthcare providers in his district and across Illinois. Aquino pointed to the toll that the budget crisis has already taken on Erie Family Health Center, a Chicago safety net healthcare provider that has been forced to work through a wide variety of issues over the last two years.

“I am glad to hear that there is some bipartisan cooperation in state government as we work toward passing a budget,” Aquino said, referring to ongoing negotiations in the Illinois General Assembly. “We should all remember that organizations like Erie Family Health are struggling to provide healthcare to the most vulnerable people in society and that we have a chance to help them end those struggles. Let’s work together and finish the job.”

Every year, Erie Family Health Center serves 70,000 patients at 13 locations across Chicagoland. More than half of the people served are best served in Spanish, 70 percent are on Medicaid, and 98 percent are considered low income. Aquino’s district is home to three clinics associated with Erie Family Health Center.

“Erie has been providing affordable, accessible, high-quality health care to those in need for sixty years and we are here to stay,” said Chief Operating Officer Amy Valukas, “but it has become much more difficult to plan for the future and continue to grow to meet evolving community needs in this environment. Our patients are the ones who suffer due to the reduction, or in some cases elimination of critical community resources. Our hope is that this situation is resolved as quickly as possible.”

According to Valukas, the uncertainty caused by the budget impasse has caused Erie Family Health to cut back on staff and programming. Instead of expanding to new locations, adding services, hiring more staff and enhancing existing services, the state’s failure to pay more than a small portion of money owed to Erie Family Health over the past two years has forced the organization to limit operational improvements and focus on a core set of services.

“Before the budget impasse, Erie Family Health Centers had been expanding across Chicagoland for six years, serving a growing number of people and creating jobs,” Aquino said. “Because of uncertainty, that trend has reversed. We need to act now to give them some stability so that they no longer have to wonder if they’ll be paid when signing a contract with the state.”

Last month, the Illinois Senate approved a balanced budget that included full funding for health and human services. That proposal is currently awaiting consideration in the Illinois House of Representatives, where budget negotiations continue.