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August 10, 2023 Opinion

Viewpoint: 7 Things you should know about ... Community health centers during National Health Center Week

This week is National Health Center Week, an annual opportunity to celebrate the vital role community health centers play in our communities. This year, NHCW runs from August 6-12, 2023.

A man wears a blue suit with a blue-striped tie.
Photo | WBJ File
Lou Brady, president & CEO of the Family Health Center of Worcester

To commemorate the incredible impact CHCs have here in Massachusetts and around the nation, I'm highlighting seven things you should know about community health centers. These facts will give you a better understanding of what CHCs do and why they are so important to the health of our nation.

1) Community health centers (CHCs) are the backbone of our healthcare system. They provide essential services to millions of people across the country, regardless of their ability to pay. According to the National Association of Community Health Centers, CHCs serve more than 30 million people in the United States. A 2019 study by the Urban Institute found CHCs provided care to 1 in 11 people in the United States.

2) CHCs were created in the 1960s to address the lack of access to healthcare in underserved communities. Today, there are more than 1,400 CHCs in the United States. The Health Resources and Services Administration defines a CHC as "a public or private nonprofit entity or public-private partnership that provides comprehensive, high-quality, and cost-effective primary health care services to persons of all ages, regardless of their ability to pay." The first community health center opened in Massachusetts at Dorchester's Columbia Point in December 1965.

3) CHCs offer a wide range of services, including primary care, dental care, mental health care, and preventive care. They provide social services such as case management, transportation, and translation services. A 2019 study by the NACHC found CHCs provide an average of 12.5 different services. The most common services offered by CHCs are primary care (99%), dental care (87%), and mental health care (78%).

4) CHCs are funded by a variety of sources, including the federal government, state governments, and private foundations. They also receive revenue from patient fees, but they are required to provide care on a sliding fee scale, so that everyone can afford to be seen. In 2019, the federal government provided $6.3 billion in funding to CHCs. State governments also provide significant funding to CHCs. For example, in California, state funding for CHCs totaled $1.4 billion in 2019.

5) CHCs are more efficient than other healthcare settings. They have lower overhead costs, and they are able to provide care at a lower cost. A 2019 study by the NACHC found CHCs have an average cost per patient visit 20% lower than the national average. This is because CHCs have a focus on preventive care, which is more cost-effective than treating chronic diseases.

6) CHCs have a positive impact on the health of the communities they serve. They help to reduce chronic disease, improve access to care, and improve the overall health of the community. A 2019 study by the Urban Institute found CHCs helped to reduce the number of uninsured people in the United States by 1.5 million. The study also found CHCs helped to improve the health of their patients by reducing the number of hospital admissions and emergency room visits.

7) CHCs are a vital part of our economic system. In addition to providing essential care to millions of people, they generated economic activity and employed many physicians, nurses, administrators, and more. The NACHC estimates CHCs generate $20 billion in economic activity each year. CHCs employ more than 300,000 people, including many of our nation's veterans.

Louis Brady is the president & CEO of Family Health Center of Worcester, which serves 30,000 patients in 64 languages each year.

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