Much of the national discussion on health care has been focused on the need for access to insurance coverage to improve the overall health of Americans. For many, the passage of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, has allowed more than 16 million people to become insured. Yet, for many there are huge obstacles to access, quality and affordability in care. For example, there still remain many challenges to getting care, such as:
- Geographic location
- Lack of transportation
- Scarcity of needed providers
- Language barriers
- Other cultural barriers, and
- Financial constraints.
These are just a few of the factors that can put access to health care beyond a person’s reach. And, for these and more reasons, community health centers play an important part in our national health care system. There are now over 9,000 community health center sites operating in every state and US territory.
Link between Community Health Centers and Preventive Health Care
Though health centers are not always seen, for many they are a true lifeline. By way of community centers, public housing clinics, homeless shelters and migrant worker locations, these facilities provide high-quality, cost-effective primary and preventive care to more than 23 million people a year. And at quick look at those served by health centers, one sees a close correlation between economic issues and the fight to maintain good health.
Despite the challenges, health centers are able to provide real, tangible health and economic benefits to the communities they serve. For example, by providing more accessible primary and preventive care such as routine screenings, well-checkups, immunizations, health counseling and providers who become familiar with patients, it is easier to prevent unnecessary and costly visits to emergency rooms. The preventive care services also lower hospital admission rates and the need for specialists and advanced care.
Health Center Links between Chronic Care and Infant Mortality Rates
Community health centers exceed national standards for chronic care diagnosis and treatment, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension, HIV, cancer and depression. Thus, community health centers improve the health outcomes of their patients, and lower the cost of treating chronic illnesses.
Health centers are even helping to lower infant mortality rates. By giving women access to early and consistent prenatal care, the infant mortality rate is 10% lower for those receiving care in health centers. And, low-income women who seek care through health centers have lower instances of low birth weight in comparison to other women of the same income levels.
Some of the most promising aspects of health centers have to do with quality and patient satisfaction. Notwithstanding their socioeconomics, health center patients generally report receiving high quality care. Of patients surveyed, 99% say they are satisfied that they receive good care. Moreover, the health care disparity that plagues much of our economically challenged and racial/ethnic populations is not reported in health centers. It is thought that because health centers put greater focus on cultural sensitivities, and are more vested in the community, the care provided is considered very beneficial.
Health Center Movement Growing, and Paying Off
Health centers are not only thriving, but they are growing. The Department of Health and Human Services just announced $169 million in Affordable Care Act funding will be allocated to build 266 new health center sites in 46 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.
And the Nation is seeing a return on its investment in health centers. According to the National Association of Community Health Centers, the cost-effective strategies of health centers adds up $24 billion in annual health system savings in the US. This means lower costs for treatment and premiums nationally.
So while many of us may never seek treatment at a health center, we should all take time to acknowledge their achievements in improving America’s health, not just during National Health Center Week, but all year round.
Remember the Health Power Motto: Knowledge + Action = Power!®