Health Center News

National Public Health Week

Next week is National Public Health Week (April 2-8) a time to focus on addressing the unique needs of the nation’s most vulnerable populations during public health threats. This is a weeklong campaign NACHC is proud to sponsor, given that America’s health centers have played a critical role in protecting public health during disasters. A case in point– Hurricane Katrina’s devastating assault on the Gulf Coast in 2005. Federally-supported Community Health Centers treated more than 19,300 evacuees in Louisiana and 17,870 in Mississippi. The most pressing and immediate needs of the evacuee population were for primary health care services, a recent NACHC report found. Many were suffering from chronic diseases, such as diabetes or hypertension, that had worsened because the evacuees had fled their homes without their medications. Also, many of those who were unable to evacuate were the elderly, disabled, or chronically ill, or those who lacked the resources or transportation to leave. Those who were forced to stay behind in and around Katrina’s footprint faced a decimated primary health care structure that is still struggling to recover. Louisiana and Mississippi have dropped to the bottom of national rankings for health care infrastructure to 49th and 50th in the nation. Health centers have a long history of directing help where it is most needed in challenging environments, such as disaster zones. A recent Health Affairs article noted that health centers “may well be situated in some communities to be the first line of response to public health emergencies” because they have the existing networks on the ground to facilitate outreach to diverse populations and cultures.