Why Community Health Centers matter

Health is an important part of economic security – not only in the developing world, but in the U.S. No one knows that better than those who, for over 40 years, have worked within Community Health Centers (CHCs) providing primary and preventive care to the medically underserved.

These private, not-for-profit corporations are so keenly aware because:

  • Boards of Directors are made up of at least 51 percent patients,
  • They are located in medically underserved neighborhoods,
  • Their hours of operation reflect patient needs/preferences,
  • Their sliding-fee scales accommodate the patient’s ability to pay and
  • They provide “enabling services” such as transportation, translation, outreach and health education designed to meet the needs of their patients.

Are CHCs needed in the U.S.? Yes, and by many people. During 2008, CHCs operating over 7,500 sites, provided care for over 20 million patients, of whom:

  • 38.3 percent were uninsured
  • 70 percent were below poverty, and
  • 59 percent were women and among women, 40 percent were in the traditional working-year ages of 20-64.

The economic recession exacerbated the already difficult circumstances of patients in these medically underserved communities and increased the demand on CHCs. From June 2008 to June 2009, total visits increased by 14 percent and the number of uninsured patient visits increased by 21 percent reflecting additional needs in already-stressed communities. By June of this year, 68 percent of CHCs reported that at least 10 percent of their patients were affected by unemployment.

CHCs, remaining true to the original mission and vision, have continued to provide much needed care – and at cost-effective and high quality outcomes – but have also generated an aggregate economic impact of an estimated, $12.6 billion, in part by creating 143,000 jobs in some of the nation’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods.

What of health reform? Will CHC’s be needed in a post-reform era? Certainly.

  • Not all individuals will be insured, under even the most optimist scenarios.
  • Of those who will be insured, “having a card” will not guarantee access to providers, certainly not one in the neighborhood with the skills to understand the needs of a diverse group of patients such as served by CHCs, and
  • Patients will seek high quality comprehensive health care that is accessible, coordinated culturally and linguistically competent and community directed.

As we look to the needs of those in the developing “world,” we must recognize that there are those in nearby communities with similar needs. CHCs are here to help meet those needs.

This blog post originally appeared at Disruptive Women in Health Care.

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