Today's Paper Latest Coronavirus Cooking Families Core values App Listen Story ideas iPad Weather Newsletters Obits Puzzles Archive

When people delay health care because they can't find a doctor close by, they wind up in much worse shape.

Often, when they do finally go to the doctor, a small problem has turned into a big and expensive problem.

Access to affordable and convenient primary health care is vital to community wellness, a robust economy, and quality of life. But unfortunately, in rural states such as Arkansas, getting to a doctor's office can pose a serious challenge.

Community Health Centers are here to fill those gaps. They were formed more than 50 years ago because of the growing recognition that putting doctors in poor communities is a powerful weapon against poverty and ill health. Today, we provide primary care to more than 28 million people nationwide. Nearly half of health centers are located in rural communities.

Federal funding for Community Health Centers in Arkansas, as well as across the country, expires later this year. Several bipartisan bills have been introduced in Congress that will provide long-term and stable funding for health centers, as well as for programs that help build the primary-care work force we need for the future. I am hopeful our Arkansas leaders in Congress will join in the effort to pass continued and long-term Community Health Center funding legislation. The health of our community depends on it.

In Arkansas, we treat more than 210,000 of your friends and neighbors each year. Our 12 Community Health Centers offer services in some 130 sites in nearly every corner of the state. Without Community Health Centers, many counties and municipalities would face severe health-care provider shortages, leaving some with no nearby options for primary care.

Like other health clinics, Community Health Centers receive revenue directly from patients, via private health insurance or government-sponsored programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. What makes Community Health Centers special is that we never turn away anybody who can't afford treatment. Those without insurance pay on a sliding scale based on their income. We locate our clinics in underserved areas, especially in rural areas, that may not be attractive to clinics more interested in profits.

To provide this cherished and all-important access and to do so with high quality and innovation, federal grants are essential. Long-term funding is imperative because individual Community Health Centers act as small businesses and economic drivers in Arkansas communities. Long-term business planning demands stable funding.

We greatly appreciate Sen. John Boozman of Arkansas for early on joining as a co-sponsor of one of the several bipartisan bills in Congress. He understands the importance of Community Health Centers to Arkansas communities. U.S. Rep. French Hill of Little Rock has signed on to an appropriation letter to support Community Health Centers.

We're a solid investment. For every $1 Congress spends on Community Health Centers, $5.73 is generated in economic activity. Furthermore, we save the health-care system $24 billion a year nationally by helping patients avoid unnecessary emergency room trips and costly inpatient hospital stays.

Health experts note a widening gap of almost three years in life expectancy between people living in rural and urban areas. Rural residents are more likely to have lower income, be older, and suffer from preventable chronic illnesses. A major cause of this disparity is simply that rural residents have difficulty getting care.

Recently, the chancellor of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Cam Patterson, testified before a state legislative committee about the increasing challenges of providing quality health care in rural Arkansas. Some rural hospitals are barely hanging on and only survive because the Arkansas Legislature took advantage of the Medicaid expansion made possible by the Affordable Care Act.

Community Health Centers stand ready to help rural Arkansas. We want to provide teaching opportunities for emerging physicians and show them the value of keeping their talents in rural Arkansas. There are so many other potential partnerships to be explored where Community Health Centers may be able to share their expertise on certain health-care matters, creating more efficiencies to rural medical treatment.

Therefore, we're asking Washington to think not only about long-term and continued funding for Community Health Centers, but also for other programs that benefit health care in rural America, such as the National Health Service Corps and the Teaching Health Centers Graduate Medical Education program. The National Health Service Corps is an especially critical tool for rural organizations seeking to recruit and retain clinicians.

Community Health Centers want to be economic drivers in rural Arkansas. Healthy people are happier and more productive. These programs and services cost money, but the return for Arkansas is huge.


LaShannon Spencer is chief executive officer of Community Health Centers of Arkansas.

Editorial on 08/02/2019

Print Headline: Powerful weapon


Sponsor Content

Archived Comments

  • 0boxerssuddenlinknet
    August 2, 2019 at 5:58 p.m.

    where are these community health centers located in Arkansas ? are you describing our local county health clinics ? where is the list ?