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LaSHANNON SPENCER: Be sure. Be tested.

Covid-19 testing free at centers by LASHANNON SPENCER SPECIAL TO THE DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE | June 11, 2020 at 2:58 a.m.

As the number of positive cases of covid-19 continue to rise in Arkansas, the importance of testing has never been more evident, especially in northwest Arkansas.

Northwest Arkansas is seeing the highest growth of covid-19 compared to the rest of the state, but a smaller percentage of people in that area have been tested. (According to recent data from the state, for every 10,000 residents, 585 in southeast Arkansas have been tested but only 351 in northwest Arkansas.)

Yikes. That says we all have a lot of work to do. And that's where Community Health Centers come in.

Local CHCs around the state are joining together to expand testing for the novel coronavirus in Arkansas, offering free testing for everyone, regardless of symptoms.

During the last four weeks, more than 15,000 tests across the state have been performed at CHCs.

The 12 CHCs in Arkansas are uniquely positioned to help test people from all demographic populations, but especially minority groups or those in hard-to-reach rural areas. Gov. Asa Hutchinson has called for testing to be greatly increased throughout Arkansas, and CHCs are proud to do our part.

We know that minorities are disproportionately impacted by covid-19. The events of the last couple of weeks nationally following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis have driven home the reality of the structural inequities in society, especially in the justice system. But we can't forget the public health disparities among various racial groups. These stem from what we in the health-care field call the Social Determinants of Health.

Wide gaps in education and economic security lead to greater risks of underlying health problems, such as diabetes and hypertension, that make minority groups more susceptible to covid-19.

Now is the time to get tested. If you are among the thousands of Arkansans who have participated in recent protests, often with a lack of social distancing, we encourage you to visit a CHC. You may feel fine, but you could transmit the virus to others. Take a few minutes to take a covid-19 test for the benefit of the ones you love.

CHCs specialize in reaching vulnerable and isolated populations. It's the business of CHCs to know their patients, their cultures, and their communities. We take care of everyone. Our goal is to make all of our patients feel like family.

The 12 CHCs in Arkansas are ARCare, based in Augusta; Boston Mountain Rural Health Center, Marshall; CABUN Rural Health Services, Hampton; Community Clinic, Springdale; 1st Choice Healthcare, Corning; East Arkansas Family Health Center, West Memphis; Healthy Connections Inc., Mena; Jefferson Comprehensive Care System, Pine Bluff; Lee County Cooperative Clinic, Marianna; Mainline Health Systems, Dermott; Mid-Delta Health Systems, Clarendon; and River Valley Primary Care, Ratcliff.

Together, CHCs have more than 100 covid-19 testing sites in every corner of the state.

@@nepCHCs are nonprofit entities

fueled by patient revenue and federal grants meant to expand health-care access for low-income and rural populations. In May, the U.S. Health Resources Services Administration distributed funds to CHCs to help deliver increased testing as part of the Paycheck Protection Program and Healthcare Enhancement Act. CHCs provide many services including primary care, dental, behavioral health, and health education./@@nep

CHCs are working closely with the Arkansas Department of Health, local hospitals, and local county health units in this statewide test effort. Testing for covid-19 is free, but insurance information may be needed if patients have insurance. Regardless of insurance status, no out-of-pocket fees are charged. Testing is offered in tents, vehicles, or in special rooms separated from regular clinic activity to safely allow everyday patient traffic.

We've provided numerous mass testing events, including recently in Forrest City and one this week in Fort Smith. We will continue to offer drive-up, no-appointment testing events. But we also set aside regular office hours for testing. Please call the CHC nearest you for the available time period most convenient for you. As we like to say, "Be sure. Be tested."

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LaShannon Spencer is the chief executive officer of the Community Health Centers of Arkansas, the Primary Care Association for the state.

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