The 2015 NACHC Policy and Issues Forum got off to a rousing start this week with a focus on the 50th anniversary celebration of the Community Health Center Movement and preventing the health center funding cliff from becoming a reality.
Gary Wiltz, M.D. NACHC Chair of the Board and Executive Director/Clinical Director, Teche Action Clinic opened the general session by emphasizing how far the Community Health Center program has come since its early days as a demonstration project under the Office of Economic Opportunity.
“We may have started out as a small demonstration project or, as some people [say], a social experiment but indeed health centers were part of the initial programs of the War on Poverty and look at us now,” said Wiltz. “Just look at all we have accomplished, we are the largest primary care network in the country. We are in every state and territory serving some 23 million people.”
He also added that health centers have only just begun to realize their full potential in helping the nation move towards better healthcare for all. The current numbers support Wiltz’s observation. In fact as health centers celebrate five decades of access to healthcare, they are projected to serve 28 million patients by the end of 2015 in 1,300 sites, in more than 9,200 underserved communities.
Wiltz underscored the importance of fixing the Health Center Funding Cliff, saying, “If we don’t fix the cliff, the cliff will fix us.” If the Health Center Funding Cliff is not addressed by September 30 health centers stand to lose 70 percent of their funding. That means 57,000 jobs lost, 2,000 sites closed and 7.4 million patients would lose access to care.
Wiltz’s comments were followed by a special presentation honoring NACHC’s past presidents, many of whom were in attendance.
NACHC P&I attendees were treated to keynote address chock full of historical anecdotes by celebrated Presidential Historian and Author Doris Kearns Goodwin. Goodwin was a White House Fellow in the Lyndon B. Johnson Administration, which also introduced the War on Poverty Legislation that funded the first health centers. Focusing on the histories of Presidents Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, and Franklin Roosevelt, Goodwin gave some insight into how these presidents’ personalities, leadership styles and the political climate influenced them as Presidents.
Goodwin remarked that even though problems change over time there are certain universal traits and patterns held by our most successful Presidents, such as Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. For instance, they were able to motivate themselves, withstand adversity, and used their oratory skills to put a human face on an issue and move the public forward.
Goodwin also noted similarities the Community Health Center movement shares with these leaders, such as the ability to come through adversity.
“In many ways your history is one of withstanding adversity and coming through trials of fire as you have defied early on the move from a demonstration project to permanent status. As you faced challenges year after year, and budget wrangles, and despite it all you have come through standing strong against all odds,” said Goodwin.
She ended her address reminding the NACHC P&I participants that even though they may never find their faces on Mount Rushmore they leave their own legacy behind in the work they do and the people they touch.
“I truly honor the work you are doing, work that is even now is creating thousands of stories that will be told and retold in the years to come,” she said.
Following Goodwin NACHC presented Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle with the 50th Anniversary Leadership Award. Daschle has long since been a champion of health centers and is Chairing the 50th anniversary committee.
Keeping with the theme of sharing the health center history and the importance of storytelling to the mission, Daschle encouraged health centers to tell their stories about the people in their communities and those who “who step up to the plate to show the kind of leadership that actually saves lives and improves the quality of life for millions of children and men and women and people all over this great land.”
He emphasized that health centers make history every day in ways large and small. “Incredibly serving now nearly 28 million patients, 7 million children, over a quarter of a million veterans, with a local impact of over 26 billion dollars,” said Daschle. “That’s history.”
While health centers should feel proud of their achievements they should also look to the future and to fixing the Health Center Funding Cliff.
“We urgently need to make history this year. We need to persuade Congress that the single, most important health related action they could take this year is to pass a multi-year extension of mandatory funding for the health centers,” said the former Senator.
Noting the heavy lift ahead, he directed health centers to keep it powerful and personal by sharing stories about the real people whose lives they’ve touched. He also reminded them how critical the grassroots efforts are to fixing the Health Center Funding cliff.
“Perhaps the most important history we can make is to ensure we extend mandatory funding for a long time to come,” said Daschel. “In 50 years no fight has ever been more important than this one.”