The NACHC CHI was off to a running start shortly after the crack of dawn in Florida today. The continental breakfast in the EXPO Hall was served at 7:30 am and thereafter a flurry of education sessions on wide-ranging topics, from Patient Centered Medical Home recognition to the health impact of human trafficking, took place for the rest of the afternoon.
Today’s highlight was the General Session. A panel discussion among health center leaders focused on the challenges and advantages for health centers in a competitive and changing health care environment. Participants included moderator Henry Taylor, NACHC Speaker f the House and CEO of Mile Square Health Center in Chicago, IL. On the panel were: Mike Holmes, NACHC Board Treasurer and CEO of Cook Area Health Services in Cook, MN; Felix Valbuena, MD, from The Community Health and Social Services (CHASS) Center, Inc.; Alejandro Romillo, President & CEO of Health Choice Network in Florida; and Shelly Ten Napel, CEO of the Community HealthCare Association of the Dakotas (CHAD). Early in the discussion, Dr. Valbuena underscored the assets health centers bring to the health care environment: “We have our hand on the pulse of the communities we serve,” he said. This sentiment was echoed by Mike Holmes who underscored the importance of collecting and using data to demonstrate the strength for health centers is with their patients and their established record in improving the health status of the populations being served.
Ten Napel described how health centers are shifting toward a value-based system of care yet receiving adequate reimbursement as a high value partner in primary care still remains an issue. This despite the fact that health centers prove every day that “higher primary care spending is associated with lower costs, lower hospitalizations, reduced illness,” she said, citing a landmark study (2016) showing that health centers save 24 percent in total spending per Medicaid patient when compared to other providers.
Competition remains a factor, however. Romillo noted that other providers are copying the health center model and “winning the game” with Managed Care Organizations (MCOs). The flourishing marketplace of urgent care centers and hospitals pursuing primary care is a signal that health centers must continue to change and adapt with the times and continue to hone their practices and staffing with the patient experience in mind.
After the panel discussion, attendees were treated to a remarkable front seat to history during the presentation of the Extraordinary Leadership Award. John Fairman, Chief Executive Officer of the Delta Health Center in Mound Bayou, MS, and Robert Smith, MD, Executive Director of Central Mississippi Health Services in Jackson, MS, were both honored. In his remarks, Fairman settled once and for all any questions that may be circulating about where the first Community Health Center was established — Mound Bayou, MS, or Columbia Point in Boston, MA.
“Columbia Point opened its doors first,” conceded Fairman. “But the Community Health Center Movement started in Mississippi.” Fairman also vividly described the experiences of the early pioneers of the movement in Mississippi as they confronted hostility and opposition in attempting to address the health inequities of the residents and Civil Rights activists during Freedom Summer. Dr. Smith, then a doctor fresh out of medical school, issued the “clarion call asking people of all races to help him care for Freedom Riders.” Two of those people who answered the call were doctors H. Jack Geiger and Count Gibson. Fairman also talked about how once these young pioneers started seeing their first patients in a church basement in Mound Bayou, Dr. Smith would leave his practice in Jackson and volunteer two or three days a week. Remarkably, when Dr. Smith realized he needed a faster mode of transportation to his patients at both sites, he procured a plane from a friend of his father’s and got a dirt landing strip and taught himself how to fly.” Dr. Smith accepted his award with a standing ovation from the audience. In his brief remarks, he thanked the many “unsung heroes who, with callused feet and callused hands, got us to where we are today.” Among them was his friend, Medgar Evers, the civil rights activist who was assassinated in 1963.
The General Session closed with a lively performance from the Water Coolers, a New York-based comedy group whose act features song, sketch comedy and pop parody about the challenges of the workplace and modern life.