Guest writer


Community Health Centers heed call

It's a great time to learn about your local Community Health Center.

As we celebrate National Health Center Week, we want to take a few minutes to brag about ourselves. But it's not without reason. Hey, we can back it up.

We do so much for health care in Arkansas, perhaps more than you may think.

More than 270,000 Arkansans annually visit a Community Health Center (CHC) for their health-care needs. We have more than 190 sites across the state to serve Arkansans regardless of where they live.

A global pandemic didn't stop us either. On the contrary, covid has made us stronger and even more innovative. Throughout the United States, CHCs provide preventive and primary-care services to nearly 29 million people. CHCs provide care to all people, including those who disproportionately suffer from chronic disease and lack access to affordable quality care. CHCs stimulate local economies, serving as top employers in many rural areas.

So, what are CHCs?

We are nonprofit health-care providers. We must meet rigorous federal standards demonstrating high-quality services and improved community health outcomes.

Some people mistakenly think of us as "free clinics." We're not. We exist through federal grant funding as well as patient revenue. Like many private clinics, we accept private health insurance, Medicaid, and Medicare. For the uninsured, we offer payment based on a sliding scale. We're proud to say that part of our mission is to treat everyone in need who comes in the door, regardless of ability to pay.

We place clinics in isolated areas of the state. These are communities desperate for health care. Often, private clinics choose not to locate in these areas because they don't believe they can make money. Our structure allows our health-care providers to focus on patient outcomes and not on bean-counting. Our focus is always on patients and their needs.

We specialize in serving those with complex health-care issues and needs, like minority populations historically underserved by the health-care establishment. We work to prevent and fight opioid addiction. We have programs to prevent and treat HIV. We treat and manage chronic diseases. While providing excellent primary care is what we're known for, CHCs also offer dental and behavioral health services. We take care of the total person.

We bring and provide high-quality health care to all Arkansans. We bring health care to the tiniest, most isolated spots in the state (a clinic deep in the Ozarks of Newton County being a prime example). We bring quality health care to predominantly African American communities (such as in Marianna, West Memphis, and Pine Bluff). We bring quality health care to Latino and Marshallese communities (most notably Springdale).

CHC board members are Arkansas community leaders. They live in the areas served by their CHC. They're CHC patients. The CHC model is inclusive, and it works. Our board members know and understand the needs and challenges each community faces. They are vested in ensuring CHCs are a trusted part of the health-care solution.

At the Community Health Centers of Arkansas, our members are known by 11 names. They include 1st Choice Healthcare, Corning; Boston Mountain Rural Health Center, Marshall; CABUN Rural Health Services, Hampton; Community Clinic, Springdale; East Arkansas Family Health Center, West Memphis; Healthy Connections, 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 Services, Ratcliff. Each organization has multiple clinics at various sites.

CHCs are not just healers. Additionally, we look beyond medical charts to address factors that may cause poor health, such as poverty, homelessness, substance use, mental illness, lack of nutrition, and unemployment.

We collaborate with hospitals, local and state governments, and social, health, and business organizations to improve health outcomes. We work to ensure our patients can access necessities like food and housing resources. With the pandemic, we pivoted to offer telehealth to maintain access to health-care services and offered covid testing and vaccines.

We're grateful to the Arkansas congressional delegation for seeing the value in CHCs. Despite opposition from the profit-hungry pharmaceutical industry, they've supported us in our push to preserve much-needed drug discounts for patients through the 340B prescription drug program.

We ask for continued support from our representatives and senators in Washington on 340B and budget issues. Long-term and stable funding for CHCs will ensure we can keep our doors open and close the health-care access gap for medically vulnerable communities. As new medical challenges emerge and health care becomes more and more expensive, CHCs will further demonstrate their importance and effectiveness.

For all of us in the CHC family, providing access to high-quality health-care services to all patients is a career passion. And serving the vulnerable, disadvantaged, and minority populations is a calling.

We indeed are part of a movement, something much bigger than ourselves. Stop by and see what the CHC near you has to offer. We're here to serve you.

Dr. Lanita S. White is the chief executive officer of Community Health Centers of Arkansas.

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