I am writing this, my first ever letter to the editor, out of an extreme fear that the basic needs and voices of over 106,000 Montanans are being ignored in today’s political climate and a strong hope that using this venue will help to call more Montanans to action regarding what we do best — take care of each other.

As the director of clinical operations for Community Health Partners, I proudly work alongside 135 dedicated employees to serve more than 11,400 patients in and around Livingston, Bozeman, Belgrade and West Yellowstone. We’re also part of a larger network of Montana Community Health Centers that employs more than 640 staff members and serves more than 106,000 Montanans each year. Of these people, 55 percent live in poverty, 25 to 30 percent are uninsured and all of them are healthier because they came to us, the providers available to them within their local communities.

On Sept. 30, funding for these vital institutions was allowed to expire and the continued congressional inaction leaves the fate of these institutions, the recipients of their care and the fate of the employees who support them up in the air. Without definitive action on the part of elected officials to sustainably fund community health centers, it is estimated that 27,000 Montanans will lose access to these vital programs. My organization, CHP, knows for certain that it will lose 70 percent of our federal grant. While the impacts of such a benefit reduction on our communities and ability to care for each other may be harder to quantify or explain to politicians working 2,000 miles away, they are certainly no less severe. We the people of Montana deserve the full attention and support of those we elected to ensure our tax dollars are invested in ways that benefit the people who call this great state home. This is why I urge you to contact Sen. Steve Daines, Sen. Jon Tester, and Rep. Greg Gianforte and remind them that driving solutions to sustainably reauthorize and protect the Federally Qualified Health Center Fund is exactly the type of thing you elected them to do. Montana’s Community Health Centers and their patients can’t wait any longer to know they have a secure future.

Candace Hassinger