Well the last 24 hours of the 2015 NACHC CHI have been a bit of a blur, but we’ll try to give you some of the highlights. A notable aspect of NACHC conference events are the pearls of wisdom and insight that come up during speakers’ remarks that give renewed shape and purpose to the 50 year old Community Health Center Movement. One such moment came during the CHI 50th Anniversary Celebration. Dr. Paula A. Johnson, MD, MPH, Executive Director of the Connors Center for Women’s Health and Gender Biology and Chief of the Division of Women’s Health at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, addressed the evening gathering with remarks that journeyed down the historic crossroads where health centers and the Civil Rights Movement first intersected. Dr. Johnson said it was fitting that health centers started in Mississippi during Freedom Summer, calling healthcare the “the unfinished work of the Civil Rights Movement.” She also commended health centers for leading innovation from the start while fighting poverty and disease, and urged them toward a renewed pursuit of “healthcare as a right for all,” particularly as the U.S. still suffers a dismal record in health rankings for preventable deaths.
Dr. Johnson’s remarks were the perfect cap to a day in which the NACHC Community HealthCare Awards of Excellence were presented to health center leaders, many of them longtime foot soldiers of the movement. The awardees are: Wilford Payne, Executive Director & CEO, Primary Care Health Services, Pittsburg, PA; Nancy Stern, CEO, Eastern Shore Rural Health System, Onancock, VA; Gary Ahasic, Board Chair, VNA Health Care, Aurora, IL; Samuel Miller, Chief Financial Officer, Crusader Community Health, Rockford, IL; Don Hinman, Board Chair, Yakima Neighborhood Health Services, Yakima, WA; Kameron Matthews, MD, Chief Medical Officer, Mile Square Health Center, Chicago, Il; Robert Pugh, Executive Director, Mississippi Primary Care Association, Jackson, MS; Elizabeth Rios (not present for the award), Nurse Practitioner, Community Health Partnership of Illinois, Chicago, IL, and Virgilio Licona, MD, Vice President of Medical Services, Salud Family Health Centers, Fort Lupton, CO.
Dr. Licona, a recipient of the Samuel U. Rodgers Achievement Award, offered up an eloquent summation of why these health center professionals were being honored, and why the movement still matters today, 50 years later. “Healthcare is for people and not for profit,” he said. “I am proud to share the stage with these people because we are helping to move the health status of the country forward. We are an important part of the solution.”
More exciting developments came the following day with the announcement from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of $63.3 million in Affordable Care Act funding to 1,153 health centers in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and 7 U.S. Territories. Health centers will use these funds to expand current quality improvement systems and infrastructure, and improve primary care service delivery in the communities they serve. “Today’s funding rewards those health centers that are achieving the highest levels of clinical quality performance and improvement,” said HRSA Acting Administrator Jim Macrae in a press release. “The awards will help health centers continue to provide comprehensive primary care to the nation’s most vulnerable communities.”
HRSA Acting Associate Administrator Tonya Bowers also mentioned the grants during her presentation at the General Session, which highlighted some of the remarkable achievements of health centers (e.g., 98 percent adoption of EHRs, 89 percent of health centers have met or exceeded Healthy People 2020 goals for at least one clinical measure), in addition to some of the challenges that lie ahead: such as payment reform, primary care integration, and demonstrating value.
Now that conference attendees are packing their bags and heading home, there is a lot to think about, and prepare for in the next 50 years.