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A Perspective During National Health Center Week

Friday, August 12, 2011

It’s hard to believe that National Health Center Week is coming to a close!  We’ve been busy with a number of activities, celebrating our member health centers’ work.  As many of you know, these events would not be successful without the assistance of dedicated interns.  One of our policy interns, Steve Yang came to us by way of Vision New America, an organization founded to promote civic participation in underrepresented groups through their public policy internship programs.  Steve is an incoming junior in high school, and prior to joining us for the summer, was not aware of community health centers. 

At the beginning of the summer, as part of planning for National Health Center Week, Steve took it upon himself to read Access Denied: A Look at America’s Medically Disenfranchised.  Like the superstar intern he was, he wrote me a brief report about it.  I hate to admit it, but when he turned his “one-pager” in, I glanced at it, saw it looked satisfactory, and placed it in a stack of reports and files.

Last night, while I was re-organizing my desk, as it had become a mess with all the flurry of activity from this past week, I came across Steve’s report. I decided to give myself a break and took a moment to read it.  As I was reading, a couple of thoughts came to mind.  First, Steve is a much better writer than I ever was in high school.  I was impressed.  But in addition to that, a realization came to me that I had visual “proof” that thanks to his experience here at the Partnership, one more person (a young, bright one who will most likely be a leader one day) now knows and can talk about community health centers. 

As we advocate for health centers and policies that strengthen health care access to the medically underserved, at times the fruit of our labor is not readily noticeable.  That phone call made, that petition signed, that vote cast…sometimes we can see our success immediately, and at other times it’s easy to feel discouraged. 

Fortunately, we have National Health Center Week to remind us to celebrate the importance of our work.  It’s been fantastic seeing the shared events on the Community Health Centers Facebook page, as well as all the #NHCW11 posts on Twitter.   After witnessing and taking part in Health Center Week celebrations in person and online, I feel as if I’m part of a movement that is greater than any words can express. 

And lucky for all of us in the future, we have a new, young adult who will be able to vote in a few years, and speak eloquently about community health centers.  Thanks in part to a report by NACHC, and thanks in part to National Health Center Week.

A few things about Steve: he enjoys learning about politics, government, and history.  He plays a variety of sports, but his main sport currently is golf.  He’s also looking at colleges on both coasts.  He gave me permission to post his report (my week’s inspiration) on this blog entry for you.

Hope you had an excellent week.

             Approximately forty years ago, in 1965, Community, Migrant, Homeless, and Public Housing Health Centers started a pilot project which would create health centers in areas where there were scarce or no doctors present. The goal of these health centers was to improve the access to care for underserved populations so that there will be many more people in the United States who could receive some form of medical care. Because these health centers were placed in areas where there are not many physicians or doctors, statistics have shown that many more of people’s lives have been saved and health costs have gone down.

            Research has been done by the National Association of Community Health Centers and the Robert Graham Center. In the report, “Access Denied: A Look at America’s Medically Disenfranchised”, it states that everywhere in the states there are medically disenfranchised populations. However, because of the health centers being formed, people’s lives have been ameliorated. This effect is caused by the health centers having quality care and preventing many common illnesses from showing up as frequently, such as the flu or the cold. Another positive factor about the health centers is that they are local; so many more people have access to be treated or diagnosed without having to go to different counties or cities.

            Health centers not only help those who look for medical care, but also help those who are financially in trouble. Because of the lower costs to receive treatment, many residents in the area can afford to go to these medical homes. Also, health centers lower the costs of many people’s medical bills. Before health centers started to appear around the country, people became sick because of preventable illnesses. As a result, those in need went to the emergency rooms more often, had more hospital visits, and needed more medication. Because of the medical homes, people found it less necessary to go to the hospitals as often as they used to. Again, the reason for the fewer hospital visits was because the patients had easy access to a doctor whenever they were ill.

            No matter what opinions people may have of funding these medical homes, statistics have shown that these health centers have created positive results. Many more residents are living healthier and fewer lives are being lost to easily preventable diseases. Not only do regular citizens see these positive outcomes, but the government sees it as well. That is why members of Congress have invested more of their time to help the Federal Health Centers Program.

Currently, I am new to the world of health policy and I am learning why people advocate for better health coverage for everyone. So far, I have only tasted what it means to advocate for health policies and why it is important for the health centers and health care to be present for the public. I have learned that even with all of the laws and advocacy going on for health coverage, each small step forward is a dent to mitigate this problem. There is still a lot to do to help those underserved populations and those who are in need, but as more people are educated on why health centers and health coverage is important and find their own voice and opinions on this subject, then that is as big of a step as a law helping health centers and a law that increases health coverage for all.