Ever visited a health center? Chances are that even if you haven’t, someone you know probably has and you’ve probably reaped the benefits of having one in your area.
Across the country, there are 1,200 health centers, delivering care through more than 9,000 service delivery sites in every state and territory. In 2012, these health centers treated approximately 21 million people across the nation, 32 percent of whom were children.
Health centers are nonprofit, community-based providers dedicated to serving their community no matter who you are, where you come from or your ability to pay.
They provide comprehensive, high-quality, affordable primary and preventative care. But health centers do more than just provide health care. They’re transforming communities by going above and beyond traditional providers. They set themselves apart by providing a wide range of services to improve the overall health of their patients and communities including patient education, fitness programs, nutrition classes and even enrollment into health insurance programs to help their patients pay for care.
But the impact of having a health center in your community doesn’t stop there. They help stimulate and grow the local economy. Nationally, total employment in health centers is more than 148,000 individuals and over the last four years, health centers have added more than 35,000 jobs. By adding good jobs to the local economy, health centers are keeping our communities at work and simultaneously, keeping our families, friends and neighbors healthy.
Consider that the majority of patients served at health centers are between the ages of 25 and 61, all working-age individuals. Without the unconditional care provided by health centers, many of these individuals would remain sick or be waiting for care at an emergency room.
Speaking of emergency rooms, while many mistakenly confuse greater access with greater costs, health centers are significantly reducing costs to health systems even as they expand access. Providing a health home to underserved and uninsured communities reduces unnecessary emergency room visits, which frequently cost much more. In effect, they save taxpayers billions of dollars.
And if that wasn’t enough, health centers are succeeding in making significant reductions in health disparities through results-oriented initiatives. By increasing access to the most vulnerable populations, health centers have been attributed for greater utilization of preventative services, fewer low birth weight babies and effective management of chronic diseases.
It’s no wonder that health centers have been a key component of the Affordable Care Act implementation, popularly known as Obamacare. The Community Health Center Fund was established to expand health centers so more Americans could take advantage of the comprehensive benefits provided by these health homes. However, this funding is scheduled to run out by the end of 2015 and health centers are facing funding cuts of up to 70 percent. Such a shortfall could be disastrous, especially here in Solano County, where health centers served more than 45,000 patients in 2013 – more than 10 percent of the population.
Health centers are a proven model that has delivered multiple returns on federal investments for the past 50 years – better access, cost-savings and even jobs. It’s a model that we cannot afford to squander. As we approach National Health Center Week in August, visit a health center near you and see for yourself how they keep communities healthy and out of the hospital emergency rooms.
Celina Keshishian is Project Coordinator at the Community Clinic Consortium, a partner of Solano Coalition for Better Health.