Celebrating Our Community’s Health Heroes
By: Charles Duarte and Sharon Chamberlain
National Health Center Week (NHCW) is an annual celebration with the goal of raising awareness about the mission and accomplishments of America’s health centers over the past five decades. This year’s NHCW is August 12 – 18.
Health Centers were first established in the 1960s through the pioneering work of Dr. Jack Geiger, a physician and civil rights advocate. While working in Africa, he saw how a community-based health care model could change the lives of some of the neediest. He brought that model to the U.S. opening the first health centers in 1965. Since then health centers have expanded with over 10,000 sites in the U.S. serving more than 27 million patients.
Washoe County has two community health centers, Northern Nevada HOPES and Community Health Alliance. Together these health centers serve almost 40,000 Northern Nevada residents providing over 155,000 health care visits. While some services are unique to Northern Nevada HOPES and Community Health Alliance, both provide access to quality primary care, behavioral health and support to meet the social and housing needs of patients.
Northern Nevada HOPES offers a team-based, patient-centered approach to healthcare. At HOPES, every patient has access to a dedicated team of physicians, clinical staff, pharmacists, behavioral health providers, and case managers. These interdisciplinary care teams help coordinate patient care while reducing barriers and improving health outcomes. Last year, HOPES served over 10,000 patients and in growing along with the community, HOPES is expanding, adding 12 new medical and behavioral health providers, increasing the number of patients served to 18,000 by 2020. The path to wellness is more than medical care and requires wrap-around services to truly impact the health of individuals and the community as whole. HOPES offers clients innovative services including a financial wellness program, Healthy Money Habits, and a medical-legal partnership, Northern Nevada Alliance for Health and Justice.
Community Health Alliance’s focus is on family health, providing primary medical care, women’s health services, pediatric care, family dental care, behavioral health services, pharmacy and nutrition services to patients of all ages. While CHA’s six health centers serve patients across the age spectrum, almost 12,000 children get their care at Community Health Alliance. CHA provides family dental care at three health centers and mobile dental programs go to numerous locations throughout the county including 26 elementary schools in Washoe County. Community Health Alliance also runs an innovative Healthy Weight Program for children as well as a Women Infants and Children nutrition program (WIC) serving more than 5,000 clients in the county.
Both Northern Nevada HOPES and Community Health Alliance are dedicated to improving the health of Washoe County residents. In addition, both health centers are significant employers in the health care community. Together we employ 445 northern Nevadans including health care professionals and support staff.
Health centers help increase access to crucial health care services by reducing barriers such as cost, lack of insurance, distance, lack of transportation, and language for their patients. In doing so, health centers provide substantial benefits to the country and its health care system.
It is estimated that health centers nationally generate $24 billion in savings for the health care system annually. They accomplish this by increasing access to timely primary care, playing a role in reducing costly, avoidable emergency department (ED) visits and hospital stays.
The theme of this year’s National Health Center Week is “Celebrating Health Centers: Home of America’s Health Care Heroes,” but none of us who work at health centers consider ourselves heroes. Rather, we are people of the community who believe that affordable health care should always be within reach for everyone who needs it. During NHCW we invite you to learn more about health centers by visiting one near you and learning about the range of services and programs we offer. Talk with our clinicians and staff and find out why health centers are a good prescription for our nation’s health.