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Shutdown May Force Health Clinic To Turn Away Patients

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Mary's Center remains open, struggling to provide basic medical care to 18,000 low-income Washingtonians due to a hold-up of Medicaid reimbursements, as a result of the Federal government shutdown.
Emily Berman
Mary's Center remains open, struggling to provide basic medical care to 18,000 low-income Washingtonians due to a hold-up of Medicaid reimbursements, as a result of the Federal government shutdown.

Every year, more than 18,000 District residents rely on Mary’s Center for their healthcare needs. Half of these patients use Medicaid or the D.C. Healthcare Alliance, which is a local health insurance program. And during the government shutdown, the District government isn’t able to make Medicaid and Healthcare Alliance reimbursements to the clinics, like Mary’s Center, that serve them.

Maria Gomez, CEO and founder of Mary’s Center, says they’re not getting paid for this week’s appointments, nor has she received a check for the $585,000 owed in reimbursements for services rendered in the past 3 months. ”What we are asking the mayor to do, as he did by cleaning up federal parks for fear of rodents... why can't we do the same thing for essential services and managed care?”

Gomez says the District should prioritize the health of vulnerable families, “If we are concerned about rodents, we should be concerned about medical care for children who could end up in the emergency room.”

A spokesman for Mayor Gray says the District’s hands are tied. Because D.C. isn’t treated like a state, it’s legally cut off from accessing its Medicaid funds, for past or future payments. When the shutdown is over, the money should start flowing again.

But in the meantime, it’s getting increasingly difficult to pay the doctors and nurses and support staff who provide heath care for low-income Washingtonians.

Mary’s Center’s assets will run out after their payroll on October 18, leaving just one week to solve the funding shortage. “We need to get loans from the bank,” Gomez explains, “and we're concerned the bank will be worried, too.” The Center is delaying payment to vendors, and planning staff furloughs.

The end of year is typically when non-profits round up donations, but this year, fall fundraising may be at risk. Gomez says she’s already seeing a drop in donations.

“People are very hesitant. A large part of our donors are government workers, and it's not just the shutdown, it's [also the impact of] sequestration, which the government workers… are not getting back pay for. So there's no appetite for them to be giving money away, as they've generously done in the past. There's no money!”

After 25 years as a pillar in the D.C. community, Gomez says this is the worst crisis she’s faced. If the shutdown continues, she says, “this is not going to be OK.”


[Music: "Sneakin' Out the Hospital" by Beastie Boys from Hello Nasty]

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