The Value of Community Health Centers

Wednesday, January 22, 2014
Dr. Constance Tucker, Chief Medical Officer, Gardner Health Services
ConnieTuckerSmallFor more than 40 years, Gardner has provided health care and behavioral health services for low- and moderate-income families and individuals in Santa Clara County. We are well known as a source of high-quality care and a trusted partner to local government, community leaders, and other providers who are concerned about improving the health of our residents.
What’s less well known is that Gardner is part of a growing nationwide network of community health centers. At more than 9,000 sites, they serve 22 million annually and provide one-quarter of all primary care visits for low-income people in the U.S. These centers fill critical needs that would otherwise be unmet in our healthcare system. According to the National Association of Community Health Centers: Community health centers are often located in areas with high poverty. These areas usually have few physician practices, which severely limits patients’ options for care.

  • They provide care regardless of insurance status, and are more likely than other primary care providers to serve the uninsured and publicly insured.
  • They are more likely to accept new patients and to offer evening and weekend hours.
  • Their services are often free or priced according to the patient’s ability to pay.
  • They are more likely to serve the chronically ill and others with complex health problems.
  • They tend to offer additional services that aren’t found together in other primary care settings, such as dental, behavioral health, and pharmacy services.
  • They also often provide transportation, translation, case management, and health education. Education is especially important in helping patients change behaviors that affect their health and encouraging them to seek preventative care.
  • Like Gardner, many of these centers also operate mobile units that bring medical care to where people live, work, and gather together.
  • Another special characteristic of community health centers is that we strive to provide care that meets our patients’ distinct cultural and health needs. At Gardner, we are also concerned with social and environmental conditions in our community that limit access medical care and make it more challenging for our patient’s to maintain good health. We will discuss some of these financial, geographic, linguistic, cultural, and environmental barriers in a future blog.
    Earlier this year, Gardner joined CaliforniaHealth+, a network of community health centers with a mission to serve everyone who walks through our doors. Through this network, we hope to help educate the public and our leaders and policy makers about the vital role we play in delivering health care services to the uninsured and underinsured in our communities.
    In my next blog, I’ll discuss how community health centers are actually helping to make our nation’s health care delivery system better by offering more affordable medicine, more cost-effectively.
    Data source: National Association of Community Health Centers, Inc.