For more than 45 years, community health centers have delivered comprehensive, high-quality preventive and primary health care to patients regardless of their ability to pay. During that time, community health centers have become the essential primary care medical home for millions of Americans, including some of the nation’s most vulnerable populations.
With a proven track record of success, community health centers have played an essential role in national recovery and reinvestment efforts and will play a key role in implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
In 2011, 1,128 community health centers operated more than 8,500 service delivery sites that provided care to approximately 20.2 million patients in every State, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Pacific Basin.
This network of community health centers has created one of the largest safety net systems of primary and preventive care in the country with a true national impact.
Community health center quality of care equals and often surpasses that provided by other primary care providers. A programmatic emphasis on quality improvement as well as community-responsive and culturally appropriate care has also translated into impressive reductions in health disparities for community health center patients. Community health centers also reduce costs to health systems; the community health center model of care has been shown to reduce the use of costlier providers of care, such as emergency departments and hospitals.
The Affordable Care Act established the Community Health Center fund that provides $11 billion over a 5-year period for the operation, expansion, and construction of health centers throughout the Nation.
Community health centers are poised to play an essential role in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. In particular, community health centers emphasize coordinated primary and preventive services or a “medical home” that promotes reductions in health disparities for low-income individuals, racial and ethnic minorities, rural communities, and other underserved populations.
Community health centers place emphasis on the coordination and comprehensiveness of care, the ability to manage patients with multiple health care needs, and the use of key quality improvement practices, including health information technology. The community health center model also overcomes geographic, cultural, linguistic and other barriers through a team-based approach to care that includes physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, nurses, dental providers, midwives, behavioral health care providers, social workers, health educators, and many others.
Rooted in a commitment to community-based, patient-centered care, community health centers continue to focus on comprehensive services that meet the varying needs of their patient populations including disease management and coordination, prevention and patient education activities, and outreach.