National Health Center Week kicks off on August 6. This year’s theme is “The Road Map to a Stronger America.” If that sounds like a big claim it may be because few people really understand the contributions community health centers make to the physical and economic wellbeing of Americans.
The first community health centers (CHCs) were launched in 1965 by President Lyndon Johnson’s Office of Economic Development. They were rooted in both the civil rights movement and the “War on Poverty” and were conceived as vehicles for changing the health and lives of residents of the communities they served.
Today, over 1,400 of these healthcare organizations provide exceptional healthcare and additional services to approximately 30 million Americans – roughly 10% of the total population – regardless of their ability to pay. CHCs reduce waste and excess healthcare costs, primarily by preventing unnecessary emergency and inpatient admissions, saving the healthcare sector over $24 billion annually according to the National Association of Community Health Centers.
CHCs (also known as Federally Qualified Health Centers because of their rigorous regulation by the Federal Health Resources and Services Association) are not only rooted in the community but governed by the community. At least half the members of each CHC’s Board of Directors are patients at the center. Local advisory committees often provide additional feedback to CHC leadership on community needs. CHCs are innovative, often pioneering new concepts in primary care. They offer highly integrated services under one roof. At CHCs, medical, dental, and behavioral health providers are available in one location and work together in teams to ensure the wellbeing of their patients. Health educators and social services professionals support their work by helping patients overcome the social barriers to achieving their optimal health.
The roadmap theme is especially meaningful to us at ChesPenn this year. As we celebrate 50 years of continual growth in caring for our community, we are also charting the path to a future of cutting-edge, whole-person care for residents of Chester and Delaware Counties. We are launching a strategic planning process and will be seeking input from the community to help us set our course. We look forward to sharing our plans and hopes in the coming months.