GREAT BARRINGTON -- As a result of the automatic, across-the-board federal spending cuts ordered this week, the county's Community Health Programs are facing painful service cutbacks in the months ahead.

Chief Executive Officer Bryan Ayars voiced dismay over the cuts, which affect the area's most vulnerable, low-income families -- more than 10 percent of the county's population. They rely on federally supported CHP programs in Great Barrington, Pittsfield and Lee for medical treatment, especially primary care and dental services, regardless of whether they are insured or are able to pay.

The CHP programs served more than 15,000 patients and clients last year.

"It angers me on a personal and professional level, because it doesn't have to happen," Ayars told The Eagle. "The people who are going to suffer already have their backs to the wall. The population we serve, including the 40 percent on MassHealth (the state's Medicaid program), the uninsured; they're going to get it all from all different directions. But we'll do everything we can to provide the services.

"I won't call it devastating, because something could be worse," he added. "But not much could be much worse. We'll figure out how to make it work, but there will be pain and it will be shared by everybody in the community."

The spending cuts, known as the sequester, are the result of a breakdown of efforts on Capitol Hill to reach agreement with the White House on how to reduce the federal deficit.


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CHP's annual $10 million budget includes a significant amount of federal aid, about 18 percent of total funding. The nonprofit's budget had been balanced, but, Ayars said, "this will throw us into red ink."

"Sequestration will reduce our federal grants by at least $10,000 a month," he said. Although CHP's Medicare reimbursement rates are exempt from the reductions, the health care center's operational funding will be hit by a 6.5 percent reduction from $1,850,000 in annual federal grants for CHP operations.

Other CHP programs that may be affected include WIC (Women, Infants and Children) funding -- a potential 5 percent cut -- as well as the Early Intervention program for children with developmental delays, and the South Berkshire Community Coalition, which works with teens to reduce drug and alcohol use.

That cut will require slashing expenses and increasing revenue, Ayars said, noting that state funding for MassHealth patients has been frozen since 2009. "If they would raise that, it would help tremendously, but they haven't," he said.

The month-by-month federal cutbacks will continue through the end of the federal government's fiscal year on Sept. 30 -- and most likely beyond that unless the sequester is replaced by some other formula agreed to by the Obama administration and Congress.

On the drawing board at CHP are limiting hours for services, closing the facilities to new patients, cutting back the use of a mobile van that provides services to hill towns, and potential reductions in the staff count, salary rollbacks or furloughs. Typically, CHP serves 150 to 170 new patients each month.

"We might not be able to do that anymore," said Ayars. "Anyway you slice it, it's not going to be pretty. There's not an easy way out.

"We're going to look at everything," he said, when it comes to "re-engineering" the use of the staff. "Absolutely, everything's on the table."

CHP employs 130 people, amounting to 101 full-time equivalents at its Great Barrington facility, the Neighborhood Health Center in Pittsfield, the Lee Family Practice acquired at the start of 2012, CHP Barrington Ob/Gyn and CHP Dental Center, also in Great Barrington.

CHP accepts 100 different insurance plans, according to Ayars, and efforts will be made to make sure payments are coming in according to contracts with the insurers. Attempts to negotiate higher rates also are in the cards. Seventy percent of the organization's revenue is from insurance payments, with nearly all the rest coming from grants.

Potential expansion plans to serve patients north of Pittsfield also are on hold, he said.

"We'll hunker down, deal with what we have and see how we come out on the other end," said Ayars.

To contact Clarence Fanto:
cfanto@yahoo.com
or (413) 637-2551.
On Twitter: @BE_cfanto 

CHP at a glance ...

Community Health Programs, with services in Great Barrington, Pittsfield and Lee, is a nonprofit, federally qualified health center that serves patients regardless of their ability to pay, and offers a sliding fee schedule to anyone at 200 percent or less of the federal poverty level if they lack insurance.

Facilities:

• CHP Health Center, 444 Stockbridge Road (Route 7), Great Barrington; (413) 528-8580

• CHP Lee Family Practice, 11 Quarry Hill Road; (413) 243-0536

• CHP Neighborhood Health Center, 510 North Street (Suite 1), Pittsfield; (413) 447-2351

• CHP Barrington Ob-Gyn, 780 Main Street, Great Barrington; (413) 528-1470

• CHP Dental Center, 343 Main Street (Suite 1), Great Barrington; (413) 528-5565

Funding and staff:

Annual budget: $10 million (18 percent from federal grants).

Impact of automatic spending cuts ('sequestration'): At least $120,000 per year

Employees: 130 (101 full-time equivalents)

Services:

Patients (all facilities, annual): 13,533 (medical or dental); 1,767 (Family Services: WIC, Early Intervention, Family Network).

Patient visits, annual: 56,079 (medical or dental); 12,761 (Family Services)

New patients, monthly: 150 to 170

Source: Community Health Programs