The Value of Community Health Centers

carmela

I just finished a webinar with more than 500 health center advocates and wanted to share with you, what I shared with them.

The value of community health centers is more apparent now than ever. Over the past five decades we have successfully built one of the finest patient-centered healthcare systems in the nation. Millions of Californians, in fact, one in seven, choose to come to us for care. They trust us, they believe in us.

Now, post-election, our future and the future of health care in the state of California seems uncertain. Speculation runs rampant but facts do not. What we do know is that change is certain. Health care coverage for our patient population and the health care financing that keeps our doors open are at stake. It is a very dynamic situation that does not instill a lot of confidence in the future.

But, as I thought about the history of our movement and what we have already accomplished, I am encouraged because I know that we will endure and ultimately prevail. It may be a different path than we expected, but we will continue forward. Our patients will still have somewhere to go for care, they will not be left out in the cold. Not only because we are good people committed to low-income communities, but because we have built a nation-wide system of care that forms the foundation of health in our local communities. We are efficient and effective. That cannot be ignored or abandoned.

In rural communities, we are some of the only healthcare providers available. In Lassen, Mariposa, and Yuba counties, which are all rural, we provide care to more than 70% of those counties’ Medicaid beneficiaries. In agricultural counties like Merced, Kern, and Tulare, where our nation’s food is grown, half the county is on Medicaid and come to our health centers for care. In urban communities, we are the healthcare backbone of low-wage industries that keep our cities moving. Highly vulnerable communities, like children living in poverty, people who are homeless, and people who are living with HIV, rely heavily on us as well.

The patients we serve in these communities are among the sickest and most medically complex as well. Working in these communities has forced us to overcome significant challenges while continuing to deliver excellent healthcare at the local level. We have been doing it for decades.

For example, we have been longtime champions of integrated care models and health homes. They are our day-to-day reality, not just buzz words. Team-based care, which utilizes a broad spectrum of providers to meet the individual needs of the patient, have been in place at community health centers since our founding. We do it because it makes sense and it works. The same goes for health information technology, community health workers, and developing new value based reimbursement models.

Our reputation for delivering excellent healthcare in an efficient and effective manner is the primary reason we have enjoyed support from both Republicans and Democrats for more than 50 years. They have seen the proven results of our work and know how we benefit patients and communities alike.

We can make the financial case for taxpayers too. Health centers save, on average, $2,371 (or 24 percent) in total spending per Medicaid patient when compared to other providers, according to a recent multistate study published in the American Journal of Public Health. According to a report by Capital Link, Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) in California produce savings of $4.4 billion annually.

The benefit to our local economy is even greater. Statewide, community health centers have an $8 billion annual economic impact including 58,234 direct and indirect jobs in low-income communities. Those are good jobs that allow hard-working families to put food on their table and be productive members of our communities.

Because of our reputation with our patients and communities, we have grown as more people became insured and sought the care they long delayed. Last year, 6.2 million patients walked through our doors, a 28% increase from 2010. More than a million of those patients were part of the Medicaid Expansion and Covered California, who for the first time had access to comprehensive primary care and preventive care in their local community. Medical, dental, mental health and more, we offer a one-stop shop for people in need. We also offer important wrap-around services like enrollment in nutrition programs, social services and disaster relief. Combined, we offer the most important thing of all – peace of mind.

They say that you can’t buy peace of mind and I would agree. Reducing our programs to dollars and cents on a balance sheet exponentially undervalues what we do in local communities. Our value is incalculable.

Our value lies in decades of experience that have enabled us to make things work just right. Our value lies in the communities who trust us with their care. Our value lies in our ability to adapt to changing circumstances and business models. Our value lies in the fact that we are already here, operating, and ready to go.

Our path forward will be difficult, but our value cannot be ignored and it certainly cannot be abandoned. Using our sincerest tone and our loudest voice, we will continue to make that point clear. We will be heard. We will endure. Ultimately, we will prevail. It is what we have always done.