At NACHC CHI general session, conference attendees had the privilege of hearing from the great H. Jack Geiger, M.D.—one of the founders of the Community Health Center Movement. A spokesperson of unsurpassed eloquence for health, medicine and human rights, Dr. Geiger is the founder of Physicians for Human Rights—which received the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1998—and Physicians for Social Responsibility.
Dr. Geiger moved the audience with his comments about the South African origins of the Community Health Center Movement and its “impact not only on patients and families but in particular the impact on those people in the community that [health centers] recruit, train and make part of [the] team.”
Geiger illustrated such impact in recounting a story of a woman who grew up in the South African village where Geiger had spent some time working during his years as a medical student at community health center founded by anti-apartheid physicians. The woman—Nkosazana Zuma—fled South Africa because of apartheid but went on to become the first national minister of health under President Nelson Mandela. He asked her what pushed her to aspire beyond the disparities in her village and Zuma described how blacks and whites worked together at the health center toward a common goal. And there was something else important — there was a road out.
“We build a road out for people in need, people in poverty, people who because of poverty and racism and other barriers may have constrained and limited aspirations that we help to unlock by addressing their health needs,” explained Geiger.
Geiger’s inspiring speech was followed by comments from Howard K. Koh, MD, MPH, Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary for Health, who said “[Community Health Centers] aspire to inspire every day.” He also reflected on how health centers have affected the lives of millions.
“You know better than anybody that health is much more than an interaction in a provider’s office. Health starts where people live, labor, learn, play and pray. That’s what the social determinants of health is all about,” said Koh. “And [health centers] got that right from the beginning.”
Health centers embrace the whole patient. Through enabling services—services not traditionally found at private physicians—health centers help to address barriers to care outside health center walls. These include confronting poverty, homelessness, lack of food and insurance. Because of their approach to care, health centers lead and are the models for patient-centered medical homes (PCMH). In fact 29% of health centers have PCMH recognition.
Dr. Koh also commended health centers for providing hope to vulnerable populations and, in the spirit of the Anniversary of the March on Washington, repeated the words once spoken in speech by the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “He who has health has hope and he who has hope has everything.”