El Rio calls on Congress to approve millions

Updated: Sep. 29, 2017 at 4:49 PM MST
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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Community health centers across the country are calling on Congress to take some action before the weekend wraps up and the federal government begins its new fiscal year.

The day before federal budgets shift to the next year, El Rio Health Center in Tucson awaits approval of $10 million.

The amount covers roughly eight percent of the center's total budget. Chief Executive Officer Brenda Goldsmith said El Rio is large enough to keep its doors open but some services could be impacted if the money doesn't come through in time.

"Sometimes the impact may not be immediate, but it will be felt," she said. "What it does in the meantime, is it creates a lot of fear. Fear in our patient base, that then cause more illness, because people start getting out anxiety or stressed about 'Do I need to have this care now, will it be covered?'."

Goldsmith said up to 5,000 people could lose access without that money. She said almost 1 in 10 Tucsonans turn to El Rio for some form of service.

Special Immunology Associates on West St. Mary's Road is one of two programs that rely heavily on the federal money. Tim Haver is one of more than 1,200 patients there. He first appointment was in 1996.

"After 20 some years, they're like my second family and everybody knows me by name," he said. "That's very comforting when you're dealing with something as serious as HIV."

Haver sees a doctor once every three months on average. He's at group meetings usually once a week.

Counseling, pharmaceuticals and everything in between are available at the one-stop center. Haver said it's much better than having to travel across town for multiple visits and check-ups.

"It's such a gift that we have here in Tucson that I don't know if the whole community appreciates what we have in Special Immunology but the patients and staff here really do," said Haver.

The hope is that Congress will share that appreciation in time to keep any setbacks in service, according to Goldsmith.

"We continue to share our voice," she said. "We've been pleased with what we've seen come from our elected officials in Arizona."

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