By Robin Affrime
As the world of health care continues to evolve around the nation and here in California, the news coverage often seems confusing. The good news is that more people are gaining access to insurance coverage, but nationwide there are still 62 million people who do not have access to primary medical care.
According to the National Association of Community Health Centers, people from all walks of life are affected. Nearly half are low-income and nearly one-third live in rural areas — and, surprisingly, the vast majority of those affected do have some form of health coverage.
People need both insurance coverage and access to care. Our nation’s network of community health centers helps fill this need by serving more than 22 million people annually, providing high-quality care and saving the health care system $24 billion per year from reduced hospitalizations and visits to hospital emergency rooms.
Many of the newly insured individuals previously seeking care in the ER or, worse yet, going without regular care, have turned to community health centers for care. Luckily, the Affordable Care Act has provided resources to double the size of community health centers over the past five years to ensure that their capacity can meet the demand for care now and in the future.
In fact, CommuniCare was awarded a $5 million grant through the Affordable Care Act that helped fund construction of our new Hansen Family Health Center, which opened this year in Woodland.
Here in Yolo County, we are fortunate to have established community health centers like CommuniCare Health Centers and others that are continuing to support and serve the needs of our growing communities. These health centers have been the local engines for the health of our communities, adding services and expanding access to care to meet the needs of families who often have nowhere else to turn to, especially in the uncertain economic conditions of recent years.
But we haven’t been able to do it alone. The generous contributions from stakeholders, community supporters and volunteers have been key to the successful formula for providing affordable, high-quality, patient-centered care for our patients.
This week we celebrate National Health Center Week, Aug. 10-16, and we take this opportunity to honor all who have joined us by investing in the health of our community, especially the many volunteers who regularly provide invaluable services in our clinics. Last year, 165 volunteers donated their time to provide services for CommuniCare’s patients, including many physicians, dentists and other health care professionals, along with lay volunteers and interns.
Dr. Roger Kingston, for example, is an oral surgeon now retired after 38 years of a successful practice in San Diego. He is volunteering at Davis Community Clinic, where his daughter, Dr. Betsy Meux, is a family practice physician. Dr. Kingston explains his commitment to community health centers as a way of both giving back to the community and himself.
“The dental clinic here does a wonderful job of general dentistry,” he said. “But many times the dentists here see a patient in need of specialty care from an oral surgeon, and those services are just not readily available for the uninsured. My being able to come in for a couple of evenings a month to provide these services at the clinic and fill these needs not only benefits the patients needing these services, it also gives me a great deal of pleasure.
“I feel I get a lot of the benefit, too, through volunteering.”
We invite everyone to recognize National Health Center Week this week, and join us in celebrating our supporters and volunteers. This year’s theme, “America’s Health Centers: Local Engines for Healthier Communities,” highlights the value and benefit community health centers provide for everyone.
Community health centers are a proven model that has delivered multiple returns on the federal investment for the past 50 years — better access, cost savings and even jobs. This is a prescription that we as a nation cannot afford to squander.
We invite you to visit a health center near you and see for yourself how we work to keep communities healthy and out of the hospital ER.
CommuniCare Health Centers provides health care services for patients of all ages at our clinics located in Davis, Woodland, West Sacramento and Esparto and through outreach in the community. Our services include primary medical and dental care, perinatal services, behavioral health services, substance abuse treatment, health education and patient support services.
In 2013, CommuniCare provided 99,921 patient visits to 22,131 patients — approximately one in every nine residents of Yolo County — and an additional 41,019 encounters for health education, outreach and health coverage enrollment assistance.
— Robin Affrime is the chief executive officer of CommuniCare Health Centers, which include the Davis Community Clinic, 2051 John Jones Road in Davis; Hansen Family Health Center, 215 W. Beamer St. in Woodland; Salud Clinic in West Sacramento and Esparto Dental Clinic in Esparto.