Thirty years ago, in 1985, MTV was four years old, the FDA approved the first blood test for HIV/AIDS and the Report of the Secretary’s Task Force on Black and Minority Health—commonly known as the “Heckler Report” was released. The landmark report was named after then Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Margaret Heckler and marked the first effort by the U.S. government to conduct a comprehensive study of racial and ethnic minority health.
Progress on the minority health is difficult to measure. Health disparities still remain a national problem, but Community Health Centers, a bright spot in the health system, with their unique model of care and 50 years of experience, continue to make great strides towards addressing these complicated issues. By recognizing that each community is one of a kind and has its own set of social determinants of health to contend with, health centers work not just for the community they serve, but alongside it. Patient majority governing boards have helped direct important resources to the community where it is most needed. And the mission of health centers, which began during President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty, has been to not only prevent illness, but address the factors that cause it.
The wisdom behind this mission was eloquently captured not long ago by Howard K. Koh, MD, MPH, Former HHS Assistant Secretary for Health at the NACHC CHI last year: “You know better than anybody that health is much more than an interaction in a provider’s office,” he said. “Health starts where people live, labor, learn, play and pray. That’s what the social determinants of health is all about. And [health centers] got that right from the beginning.”
Whether it’s helping a patient manage their diabetes by providing nutrition and fitness classes, or helping a community get to their appointments by providing much needed transportation, health centers go beyond their four walls to provide some equality in health in over 9,200 locations across the country. They are also a provider of jobs in their local communities and save the health system money while also generating $26.5 billion a year in total local economic activity. Just look at the numbers:
- 62 percent of health center patients are members of racial and ethnic minority groups
- Health centers serve:
- 1 in 15 Americans (23 million people)
- More than 860,000 migrant/seasonal/agricultural workers and their families
- Over 1.1 million homeless persons, including those who are on the street, in a shelter or in transition
- More than 475,000 school-based health center patients including children who might otherwise miss school or not receive the care they need
Despite some progress in ending health disparities the work is not yet done and health centers will continue to play a crucial role in addressing the healthcare needs of the most vulnerable and underserved populations. As part of the 50th Anniversary celebration, we are trying to showcase examples of health centers carrying out their mission with innovation and spirit on this blog. If your health center is doing just that, let us know, and we will write about it on this blog.