Why community health centers are still a resource for black people

By Alexa Spencer | word in black

(WIB) – The first community health centers were funded in 1965 to provide health care to people in vulnerable communities who could not afford to pay. Nearly 60 years later, 11,000 locations across the United States continue to bridge the gap for communities in need of accessible and affordable health care.

For blacks, who are more likely than whites to be uninsured, community health centers help remove some of the systemic barriers to health care, including lack of insurance and transportation.

We spoke with Susan Burton, National Director of Grassroots Advocacy at the National Association of Community Health Centers, to learn more about the role of health centers in our local communities, how we can access care and even have a say in the services provided. .

WORD IN BLACK: What are Community Health Centers? And who are they for?

SUSAN BURTON: Community health centers are for everyone. And I mean they are for everyone. We do not turn away patients [who don’t have] the ability to pay. It doesn’t matter what your insurance status is. There are people who are insured. There are people who are uninsured.

The kind of official name in law is Federally Qualified Health Center. And that means there’s a significant amount of funding that comes from the federal government — and that’s what helps them get established. So there is a basic grant that each health center receives through our federal taxes. So it brings federal taxpayers’ money back to local communities. They must be in medically underserved communities, which means there are often no providers in those communities. So there are a lot of remote places. There are urban places — 51% of council members must be patients, which means patients inform about the type of care the community needs.

The interior of the Memphis, Tenn.

WIB: What kind of care can a person expect to receive at a community health center?

SB: Health centers are known for their preventive care… I think one of the first doctors in health centers wrote prescriptions for fruits and vegetables because he realized that one of the problems that affected the patient’s health was not having access to healthy food.

So primary care is part of that, but there are a lot of health centers that have integrated behavioral health. Because again, when patients define it, they start to say, “Well wait a minute, it’s great that we get medical checkups or have access to make sure we stay healthy. , but what happens when we find someone who has a substance use disorder or a mental health problem.

There are health centers that serve people who speak many different languages. And so there are translation services available. So when you walk into a health center there is pretty much a guarantee that you are going to be served and that the things you need to be healthy will be there.

WIB: You mentioned that community health centers don’t turn anyone away, regardless of their ability to pay. Are the services free or can patients expect to be billed later?

SB: There is a sliding scale… There are several things. The first is that there are what are called enabling services, which are a whole list of services that will be added to the primary care that you may need.

But if someone is uninsured, they will find out if they qualify for Medicaid. So there are people doing outreach and enrollment, because we know there are a lot of people who are eligible for Medicaid who don’t know it, or who are stigmatized, or who don’t are simply not registered.

WIB: Although cost is one barrier to accessing health care, there are others, such as transportation. Can you give an example of how community health centers work to break down barriers other than coverage?

Memphis Health Center, Inc. was opened in 1970.

SB: There’s a community in Tennessee that doesn’t have public transit. So, one of the services they offer is transportation to bring their patients to the site. During COVID we’ve seen – and it’s been happening before – that there are a lot of community centers that have mobile units that will go to different locations.

There is a health center that works in partnership with the VFWs to ensure veterans in their community have access to care. So they take their mobile unit to the parking lot.

To find out if there is a community health center near you, visit www.findahealthcenter.hrsa.gov.

Maria J. Book