By Esme Murphy

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Community health care centers around the state could close or deal with drastic cuts if a deal isn’t reached in Congress by Thursday.

The government helps fund 72 community health care clinics in Minnesota, which help 180,000 people.

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Juanita Moss works at a small clinic on Rice Street in St. Paul. She, her four adult children and a grandchild are also patients there.

“For this clinic to be in the neighborhood, it’s very important,” she said. “I am just heartbroken we are going through this.”

Minnesota’s clinics need $26 million to keep them funded for another year.

Clinics are not just in urban areas but also throughout the state.

Jonathan Watson, CEO of the Minnesota Association of Community Health Care Centers, says clinics need the funding soon, or else they’ll run out of money.

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“We are at the brink, the hard cutoff is at the end of March, there is funding through the end of March,” he said.

Clinic representatives just returned from Washington, lobbying Congress for the clinics’ survival.

In a letter to Minnesota’s Congressional Delegation, Gov. Mark Dayton wrote that the uncertainty is “wreaking havoc,” adding that “no Minnesotan should experience an interruption in their care as a result of a partisan disagreement.”

Moss and managers at her St. Paul clinic point out that it’s not just patients that will be affected. If community health care centers close, many patients will turn to already crowded local emergency rooms.

“Emergency rooms are going to be overflowed with our patients trying to get help,” Moss said.

Late Wednesday afternoon, Sen. Tina Smith released a statement, saying the funding for community health centers is in a compromise Senate budget bill that the Senate approved Wednesday in order to avoid a government shutdown.

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Yet, details still have to be worked out, and, at this point, it’s a very good sign, but not evidence of a done deal.

Esme Murphy