Community health centers and family community clinics around the country have been providing medical care to under-served communities for nearly half a century. These health centers are run primarily by a board of directors drawn from among health center patients, which ensures that the care delivery methods are tailored to meet the needs of the communities being served. These clinics and medical groups provide much-needed health management facilities to many people who might otherwise have been unable to afford such care.
The Importance of Health Centers
Over the years, family community clinics and health centers have ramped up the number of patients that they serve and the range of services they provide. The demand for community health services has been growing exponentially in the US, with family community clinics providing medical care to millions of patients every year. Apart from providing quality medical care, these health centers also help the neighborhoods and local communities of which they are a part, by providing them with an economic stimulus.
Moreover, medical groups and family community clinics help expand healthcare coverage within the country and control the ever-spiraling healthcare costs. By design, community health centers are located in economically-weak areas that have been medically under-served for years. In poor rural and inner-city communities where quality care is scarce, these medical groups help expand healthcare coverage and bring primary medical care to the neediest Americans. By doing so, they also help reduce the overall cost of medical care in the country.
Bringing Medical Care Where It Is Most Needed
Over 45 years since they first came into existence, family community clinics and health centers today serve more than 20 million patients across 8,000 clinics and treatment sites. Of these 20 million patients, an estimated 941,000 are seasonal or migrant farm workers and more than 1 million are homeless individuals who would have had no access to any kind of healthcare if not for these centers.
In order to remain operational, a health center needs to meet four fundamental requirements. These are:
- Location: The first requirement is that every family community clinic must be located in a medically under-served neighborhood and serve an economically deprived community. An example of such a community or neighborhood is one that is home to a large number of people living in poverty, with a high percentage of elderly residents, and/or higher than average rates of infant mortality. Areas with few or no primary care physicians would also qualify as a medically under-served locality.
- Coverage: Another requirement is that a family community clinic must provide medical care to every person who seeks it, regardless of the individual’s financial condition or ability to pay for the treatment. While medical services are provided for everyone, a sliding fee schedule is implemented by the clinic, with treatment charges being adjusted in accordance with the patient’s income. This allows poor patients to receive the treatment when they need it and then pay for it as and when they are able.
- Range: The range of health services provided by a family community clinic must be comprehensive and consistent. These health centers are required to provide a broad range of primary care services as well as important “enabling” services which are meant to support the timely delivery of affordable and effective medical care. This allows poor and homeless patients to get treatment for complex and rare conditions as well as for common ailments, thus enabling them to live healthy and productive lives.
- Governance: All community health centers must be governed by a community board comprising of members of the community which the clinic is serving. At least 51 percent of the board members must themselves be patients of the health center. These board members must all be given the authority to supervise and oversee the operations of the community health center, approve budgets, establish general administrative policies, and hire workers. This helps prevent the misuse of funds and allows communities to feel empowered and in control of their own healthcare needs.
It can be said, therefore, that the importance of family community clinics and health centers is derived from the fact that the patients they serve typically do not have access to other healthcare settings or primary care physicians. Their only source of medical treatment is through the community health center, which makes these establishments essential for the health, wellbeing, and productivity of the nation as a whole. Homeless and low-income individuals, uninsured persons, seasonal farmworkers, and migrants are usually the ones who visit community health centers for their medical needs. Research suggests that more than two-thirds of the patients served by family community clinics are members of racial and ethnic minorities who are often at a significant disadvantage even today. Therefore, these clinics and medical groups must continue their work of serving the neediest citizens of the nation.