I was recently asked to name one quality that I believe differentiates community health centers from other health care providers. To be quite honest, it was very hard to narrow it down to only one quality.
Many thoughts came to mind…the convenience they offer by providing many services under one roof, the affordability of care, the quality of service, the fact that they hire staff from the community to serve their own community, the flexibility they have as organizations to quickly adapt to the population’s needs. All seemed to be valid answers. After giving it some thought, I decided that if I could only pick one quality that makes them unique, I would pick the one that makes the most difference in people’s life: Community health centers are patient-centered.
As a health care professional, I have consistently observed this quality during the past 40 years. But recently, I have experienced it myself though an experience that my own parents had during a dental visit at the Gardner Family Health Network’s St. James Health Center.
My father, the main caregiver of my mother who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, had an appointment to see his dentist that day. The plans he had for my mother’s care fell through at the last minute and he decided to take her with him to his dentist appointment. While waiting to see his dentist, he sat in the waiting room nervously, hoping that my mother would be able to sit through his dental procedure comfortably in her wheelchair without feeling anxious or agitated. When he was called for his appointment, the ladies at the front desk told him to go ahead and they assured him that they would take good care of his wife while he was seeing the dentist…and they did!
Later, when my father told me this story, I felt a mix of disbelief and deep gratitude. I asked myself: Who in the world does that? Who would notice my father’s struggle that morning having to juggle taking care of himself and taking care of his wife? And most importantly, who would care enough to add one more task to their list by kindly offering to help him? Of course, I knew the answer and looking back, I have known the answer ever since I started working in health care in 1976 at a community health center. Any community health clinic staff member would offer to help.
I have a deep respect for everyone who works at community health centers because of their ability to appreciate the human side of their patients and for their willingness to go beyond the call of duty to help another human being. That is what I call exceptional, compassionate service!
As we approach National Health Center Week, I’m reminded once again of the quality care that community health centers have been providing for more than 50 years and I’m grateful for the individuals that come to work every day to deliver the best possible care to those who need it the most.
Every day, but especially this week, let’s celebrate the work community health centers do and thank them for always putting the patients first! Because this quality is, without a doubt, what makes community health centers unique.
Dolores Alvarado, MPH, MSW, CEO Community Health Partnership
Dolores Alvarado is the CEO of Community Health Partnership, a membership organization that represents nonprofit community health centers, and that advocates for affordable, accessible, and quality health care for Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties’ residents.