Today was a special day for National Health Center Week and for health center leaders celebrating five decades of the Community Health Center Movement– they were able to hear from the top health official, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell, and indeed the co-founder of the Community Health Center Movement, H. Jack Geiger, MD. Secretary Burwell, Dr. Geiger, as well as Jim Macrae, Acting Administrator of the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), joined health center leaders from all over the country for a special NHCW Teleforum. The call came just one day after HHS announced New Access Point grants which will open 266 health center sites in almost every state. Secretary Burwell in her remarks noted “each of you is part of a legacy that stretches back half a century. Fifty years ago two health centers pioneered the health center program. And today, over 1300 health centers form a network of high quality primary care and are a lifeline for some of our most underserved neighbors.”
Burwell also underscored the critical role health centers play in the U.S. healthcare system — a role that is growing even more important as they continue to improve care. “Since the beginning of 2009, health centers have added 6 million patients. With your help we reached millions of Americans who are uninsured to educate them about quality, affordable health coverage available under the Affordable Care Act. In total, health centers have helped more than 10 million Americans learn about and find [insurance] coverage. As a result, centers have seen a significant drop in uninsured patients, nearly 16 percentage points since our first open enrollment began.”
Burwell also urged that it was time for health centers to go beyond insurance and build on the progress made in providing quality care. “As we work to build a better health system that delivers better care, spend our dollars more wisely, and put the consumer at the center of their care to keep them healthy, you all have a crucial role to play. Many of you are already making progress in this area — adopting electronic health records, improving service integration and becoming patient-centered medical homes. We put educated and empowered patients at the center of their care, we get better outcomes and a stronger healthcare system.”
Healthcare transformation was an emerging theme throughout the call, meaning, health centers are not only changing and adopting new ways to improve care delivery, but also transforming communities by going beyond medicine to solve problems. In his remarks, Dr. Geiger pointed out that this has always been the mission of health centers:
“We are change agents. We are transformative, new institutions. We are transforming things, not just within the healthcare system, but outside trying to address the root causes – the social causes – of so many of the problems that we deal with.”
Dr. Geiger — who is soon to turn 90 years young — was also hopeful about the future and what the next 50 years hold for health centers. “I am optimistic,” he said. “There is something still true that I suspect is true of the people in this program and the people out there in the audience… that vision that lit up 50 years ago in that meeting in Greenville, Mississippi, where [the health center movement] first happened…that vision is burning just as brightly today and is just as deeply important as it was back then. As long as that stays with us we’ve got a wonderful future to look forward to.”
With just a few more days of NHCW left, we’re not sure any day will be as good as this one. But we’re hopeful. Stay tuned to this blog as we follow more news and developments with NHCW.